Science Update: Soils Sequestering Carbon



 

The Counter: Carbon farming is a centerpiece of the Biden administration’s climate strategy. But new research complicates common assumptions about how it can work.

 

Nature Communications, 27 January 2021: 4D imaging reveals mechanisms of clay-carbon protection and release

 

Science, 31 August 2012: Bad News for Soil Carbon Sequestration?

 

Excerpts from Nature Bats Last, Climate-Change Summary (numbers refer to self-reinforcing feedback loops):

Supporters of carbon farming — the nonsensical notion that industrial civilization can be used to overcome a predicament created by industrial civilization — claim all we need to do is fill the desert with nonnative plants to the tune of an area three-quarters the size of the United States. And, they say, we’ll be able to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide by a whopping 17.5 ppm in only two decades. Well, how exciting. At that blistering pace, atmospheric carbon dioxide will be all the way back down to the reasonably safe level of 280 ppm in only 140 years, more than a century after humans are likely to become extinct from climate change. And, based on research published in the 2 May 2014 issue of Science, soil carbon storage has been over-estimated and is reduced as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration rises.

11. Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013). Subsequent carbon release “could be expected to more than double overall net C losses from tundra to the atmosphere,” as reported in the March 2014 issue of Ecology. Arctic permafrost houses about half the carbon stored in Earth’s soils, an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it, according to NASA, which is more than twice as much as already exists in the atmosphere. Peat chemistry changes as warming proceeds, which accelerates the process, as reported in the 7 April 2014 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

13. A paper in the 6 April 2015 online issue of Nature concludes: “The heat production is not only expected to accelerate the organic carbon decomposition and potentially the amounts of carbon emitted to the atmosphere but could be the tipping point that will lead to the loss of evidence of early human history in the Arctic, which so far has been extremely well preserved in the top permafrost.” The rapidly decaying permafrost is largely recent in origin, according to a paper in the 27 April 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, and is leading to a “runaway effect.” The resulting carbon is entering “the atmosphere at breakneck speed,” according to an analysis published in the 27 April 2015 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. A paper in the 1 February 2016 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences finally indicates the scientific literature is catching up to the reality of the dire situation: “our results suggest that this subarctic tundra ecosystem is shifting away from its historical function as a C sink to a C source.” Slowly catching up to reality, a paper in the 12 March 2016 issue of Climate Change Responses indicates “the large stocks of carbon stored in graminoid soils should be more susceptible to mineralization in a warming Arctic.” In other words, climate warming accelerates carbon release from thawing Arctic soils.

31. “Thawing permafrost promotes microbial degradation of cryo-sequestered and new carbon leading to the biogenic production of methane” (Nature Communications, February 2014). According to a paper in the 21 October 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “The observed DOC [dissolved organic carbon] loss rates are among the highest reported for permafrost carbon and demonstrate the potential importance of LMW [low–molecular-weight] DOC in driving the rapid metabolism of Pleistocene-age permafrost carbon upon thaw and the outgassing of CO2 to the atmosphere by soils and nearby inland waters.”

35. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide causes soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide (Science, 2 May 2014)

40. Soil microbial communities release unexpectedly more carbon dioxide when temperatures rise (Nature, 4 September 2014). As a result, “substantial carbon stores in Arctic and boreal soils could be more vulnerable to climate warming than currently predicted.”

46. “An increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet — soil” (Nature Climate Change, December 2014 )

 

From “Bad News for Soil Carbon Sequestration,” by George A. Kowalchuk in Science on 31 August 2012

 

Published Recently:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Academic Pursuits. Woodthrush Productions, New York.

 

Latest peer-reviewed journal articles:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Near-Term Loss of Habitat for Homo sapiens. Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(4):216-218.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Means by Which COVID-19 Could Cause Extinction of All Life on Earth (pdf). Environmental Analysis & Ecology Studies 7(2):711-713.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Role of Conservation Biology in Understanding the Importance of Arctic Sea Ice (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):147-149.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. The Myth of Sustainability (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(3):117-122.

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Trees Cannot Sequester Enough Carbon to Slow Abrupt Climate Change. Modern Concepts & Developments in Agronomy (pdf) 6(4). DOI: 10.31031/MCDA.2020.06.000641

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Earth is in the Midst of Abrupt, Irreversible Climate Change. Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences Research 2(2).

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Will COVID-19 Trigger Extinction of All Life on Earth? (pdf). Earth & Environmental Science Research & Reviews 3(2)2:73-74. doi.org/10.33140/EESRR.03.02.04

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Going Halfway: Climate Reports Ignore the Full Evidence, and Therapists Ignore Grief Recovery. Clinical Psychology Forum 321:28-31.

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Becoming Hope-Free: Parallels Between Death of Individuals and Extinction of Homo sapiens. Clinical Psychology Forum 317:8-11. The full paper is linked here.

 

Books Published Recently:

McPherson, Guy R. 2020. Another Voice Crying in the Wilderness: My Homage to Edward Abbey, in three formats:

Signed, inscribed edition (includes postage and handling within the United States). These copies will be signed by the author and inscribed to whom you wish (e.g., “To Bill and Jane …”).

Paper edition

Electronic edition

 

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction. Woodthrush Productions, New York.

 

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Going Dark. Woodthrush Productions, New York.

 

Pauline Panagiotou Schneider and Guy R. McPherson. 2018. Revised Second Edition of Ms. Ladybug and Mr. Honeybee: A Love Story at the End of Time. Woodthrush Productions, New York.

 

McPherson, Guy R. 2019. Revised Second edition of Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey. Woodthrush Productions, New York.

 

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