How much carbon can we dig in?

Healthy soil for a healthy planet

To rein in global warming, scientists believe it will not be enough to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions: we will also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Soils are an important reservoir for carbon, as they contain nearly double that found in the atmosphere and vegetation combined. Agricultural practices have degraded soil carbon stocks, so there is a large potential for atmospheric carbon to be sequestered in soils.

The EU-funded Coordination of International Research Cooperation on soil Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture program (CIRCASA) aims to develop a research agenda based on the most pressing questions and barriers in soil carbon sequestration.

“CSIRO is a partner, as we have been working on soil carbon sequestration for a long time,” says Mike Grundy of CSIRO Agriculture and Food.

“CIRCASA is led by a team at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) that CSIRO has been collaborating with closely for decades, so we are well-placed to make a contribution.”

“Carbon sequestration in soil is complex. Each soil is different, exists in a different climate and is constantly ‘breathing’, so carbon is being exchanged with the atmosphere. CIRCASA is an ambitious initiative, because it is trying to gather a sense of these complexities, and strengthen the coordination of research across the world.”

There are added benefits to preserving and enhancing soil organic carbon, as increasing soil carbon makes the soil healthier. Soils with more carbon in them hold more moisture, have better nutrient dynamics and are more resilient to change.

CIRCASA involves 22 partners from 17 countries around the world, and was formed in response to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties 21 and 22 global meetings on climate change.

Banner image: Soil is an important carbon reservoir. Credit: Shutterstock