Carbon soil capture: One more tool to help normalize climate?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) has become high on people’s radar lately undoubtedly due not only to its ability to trap and retain heat in the tropospheric layer (which contains the earth’s atmosphere), but also because that captured and stored heat lasts for decades in air. Essential to plant life, the supply of CO2 in air is obviously finite.

When carbon is released into the air – regardless of its source, be it life- (breathing-), land- (soil-), water- (ocean-, lake-, river-) or human- (through, for example, the burning of fossil fuels due to less-than-complete combustion) based – the result is carbon dioxide (CO2). Contrast sources with carbon stores which are also called sinks or reservoirs.

Carbon can furthermore readily move between sources. For example, carbon can move between ocean and air and between soil and air; that is when, for example, soil is disturbed (plowed, tilled or turned), and thereupon carbon can be released into the atmosphere. In other words, the released carbon goes somewhere; it just doesn’t disappear.

It is important to note also that the amount of carbon released into atmosphere yearly from anthropogenic (human) activities is 10 billion (giga) tons. When combined with oxygen in air to form carbon dioxide or CO2, the total is nearly quadrupled to 38 gigatons of CO2 annually.

When combined with carbon and carbon dioxide from non-human-based activities or causes, the yearly quantities are 30 gigatons (C) and 120 gigatons (CO2), respectively. Remember, this includes C and CO2 only and no other greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the tally is for a year.

The uptake of CO2 by the oceans, meanwhile, is 25 percent. That which remains and isn’t taken up by the leaves of plants and trees, is sinked in land. Some of that stored-in-the-earth carbon, incidentally, got there as a result of decayed and dead organic matter buried in the ground over a timeframe of millions of years; the stuff of – and what is responsible for the formation of – fossil fuels.

Okay, so given that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Apr. 4, 2022 “The evidence is clear: the time for action is now. We can halve emissions by 2030” press release, “In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed.” Greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere are rising; that’s the bottom line and part of that GHG climb includes the contribution of CO2.

In an attempt to try to help offset some of that CO2-in-the-air rise, one method being explored is ground-based carbon absorption (also known as capture) and storage.

In fact, Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the University of Maine in Dec. 2021 released a related study, its title being: “Ecosystem Service Valuation Approaches and Carbon Mitigation Considerations for Garden State Agriculture.” In a corresponding press release dated Dec. 7th, Rutgers University noted, “The study … explores how New Jersey’s plants and soils can help absorb and store carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions,” and it should be noted, upwards of 8% of state GHG can be offset via farmland, forest and wetland GHG absorption.

”New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act 80 X 50 Report notes that these lands, along with strategies to increase their carbon storage capacities, will be essential if New Jersey is to meet its 2050 emissions reduction goal.”

Rutgers University in the press release further went on to state: “The report outlines considerations to increase soil carbon sequestration from agronomic practices, while also providing a scan of the landscape and lessons from other states and programs that could be applicable for agriculture in New Jersey.”

That and the bigger world beyond, quite possibly.

– Alan Kandel

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