Soils could aid climate change fight

The world’s soils could store an extra 8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, helping to limit the impacts of climate change, a study suggests.

Adopting the latest technologies and sustainable land use practices on a global scale could allow more emissions to be stored in farmland and natural wild spaces, the study shows.

Growing crops with deeper root systems, using charcoal-based composts and applying sustainable agriculture practices could each year help soils retain the equivalent of around a fifth of annual emissions released by the burning of fossils fuels, the team says.

Storage potential

The role that soils could play in efforts to combat climate change has until now been largely overlooked, owing to a lack of effective monitoring tools, say a team of scientists including researchers at Edinburgh.

Recent advances in technology have enabled researchers to work out their full potential.

Reducing emissions

Coordinated efforts involving scientists, policymakers and land users are key to achieving any meaningful increase in soil storage, researchers say.

Resources should be provided to help reduce the environmental impact of farms, they add.

Community-based initiatives would help to overcome cultural barriers, funding issues and monitoring challenges to achieve a global increase in soil uptake, the team says.

Schemes such as the Cool Farm Tool, a free online greenhouse gas calculator for crop growers, help farmers measure, manage and reduce emissions from their land.

Improved management

Previous research shows that soils currently lock away around 2.4 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which are stored underground as stable organic matter.

The study, published in the journal Nature, received funding from the Natural Environment Research Council. The research was carried out in collaboration with Colorado State University, Cornell University, Michigan State University and the University of Aberdeen.

Edinburgh’s climate research is world-leading. Its researchers have secured more than £50 million over the last seven years to fund work on climate science, emissions mitigation and sustainable solutions.

In the fight to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century we need heavyweight allies. One of the most powerful is right beneath our feet. Soils are already huge stores of carbon, and improved management can make them even bigger.

Professor Dave ReaySchool of GeoSciences

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