Charles Rice on whether soil could speed Earth’s warming

The soil under our feet has a complex relationship with our warming world. Microbiologist Charles Rice told EarthSky that soil helps take carbon dioxide out of the air – it absorbs millions of tons each year. But Earth is still warming, and, as it does so, microorganisms in the soil release carbon.

Charles Rice: With warmer temperatures, just like our warm bodies, the microorganisms grow faster and so they need more food, so they would feed on that organic carbon. So as they’re feeding on that, then they’re releasing that carbon back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

So soil can help warm or cool the Earth – depending on how we manage it.

Charles Rice: You can increase the amount of carbon stored in soil by increasing plant inputs, and that could be by different rotations, cover crops, improving fertility. And, one way to reduce the loss of carbon of the soil is doing less tillage or stirring of the soil.

He said that keeping carbon locked in soil also keeps soil healthy and results in better crops.

Charles Rice: So there’s a multiple win situation.

Join EarthSky in celebrating The International Year of Planet Earth. Thanks to the National Science Foundation and US Geological Survey.

Our thanks to:
Charles Rice
Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kansas

April 19, 2009

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