London | The Earth’s soils could store an extra 8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases which may help limit the effect of climate change, according to a new study.
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, according to scientists including researchers from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh in the UK.
Growing crops with deeper root systems, using charcoal-based composts and applying sustainable agriculture practices could help soils retain the equivalent of around four-fifths of annual emissions released by the burning of fossils fuels, they said. 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, researchers said.
Recent advances in technology have enabled researchers to work out their full potential. Coordinated efforts involving scientists, policymakers and land users are key to achieving any meaningful increase in soil storage of greenhouse gases. Resources should be provided to help reduce the environmental impact of farms, researchers said.
Community-based initiatives would help to overcome cultural barriers, funding issues and monitoring challenges to achieve a global increase in soil uptake, they suggest. Previous research shows that soils currently lock away around 2.4 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which are stored underground as stable organic matter.
Soils are already huge stores of carbon, and improved management can make them even bigger, said Dave Reay from the University of Edinburgh. With the surge in availability of ‘big data’ on soils around the world, alongside rapid improvements in understanding and modelling, the time has come for this big-hitter to enter the ring, said Reay.
It is difficult to easily measure changes in soil carbon as changes are slow and we are trying to measure a small change against a large background, said Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen.
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