REVIEW: CAPTURING CARBON TO SLOW GLOBAL WARMING – Jamie dePolo
The Kyoto protocol was set up in 1997 with the intention to target greenhouse gas emissions of the developed countries. Due various economic reasons, Australia and the US did not ratify the protocol. Up till today these two countries haven’t agree to the protocol. However, in 2004 Russia approved and confirms their part in the whole global warming and greenhouse scenario. This means that the Kyoto protocol is in binding since February 2005. In the meanwhile, scientists and researchers have look for methods and management strategies that would both benefit farmers and the environment.
The two dominant greenhouse gases are carbon based: Carbon dioxide and Methane. One way of keeping carbon dioxide in the soil rather than in the atmosphere is through tillage management. No till makes soil more stable increasing water and nutrient capacity, resulting in better crop production but it doesn’t end there.
Another way to minimize Carbon concentration is by looking at wetlands.
According this article, wetlands cover about 3% of the Earth’s surface which provide services to humans and carbon sequestering is one of them. Peat lands are wetlands with a different taste. It contains layers of dead biomass that have accumulated over the decades and with as much of 50 % of Carbon stored within it. These peat lands hold approximately 30 % of soil carbon which invite managers to protect this already scarce ecosystem. Studies in Alaska, reveals that as the ice starts to melt, the plants species that are anti – decomposition perform much better and can thus extract more carbon dioxide from atmosphere. However as climate gets warmer the peat lands will get drier and will be more fire prone. The amount of CO2 released from peat lands after a fire is unknown and further studies are necessary to determine that.
To come back to the role of agriculture in carbon sequestering, it will provide a short term solution for the high levels of carbon based compounds until alternative fuel sources are available. Plants and crops use carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, but when leaves or other plant matter falls to the ground, it is either converted to CO2 or it will be part of the soil organic matter. Practises such as no tilling, mentioning earlier means that soil are not tilled each and every year, but there are time when the soil are left alone. This will allow carbon to stay longer in the soil and out of the atmosphere. There are also benefits that accompany the no tillage practises, which is mention earlier. Agriculture contributes 20 -40 % to the GHG emissions, thus tackling this problem will reduce CO2 to about 8 – 10% which are required by the Kyoto protocol.
Similar to that of peat lands, the question remain for how long will the soil hold unto the carbon and how easy will it be released when the soil are tilled. Carbon sequestering is not the solution to our problem but it will give us time, something that we don’t have!
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