Friday, March 22, 2019

£2m project aims to transform soil carbon understanding

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

UK scientists have been awarded £1.8m to improve understanding of soil carbon storage and how it can help mitigate climate change.

Called “Locked up”, the project is being led by Jeanette Whitaker of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Scientists will study the processes of soil carbon formation and stabilisation in a bid to quantify the amount by which it can be increased.

The world’s soils hold around twice the amount of carbon that is found in the atmosphere and in vegetation. But researchers say the loss of carbon from this important reservoir is an escalating global threat caused by unsustainable land management practices.

Once unlocked, carbon enters the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Unlocked carbon also makes soils less fertile – something the government is keen to discourage because it impacts on global food security as well as the environment.

The project is a new collaboration between researchers with expertise in soil ecology and a range of other disciplines. It includes advisory support from the Max Planck Institut, Germany, and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France.

Welcoming the grant, Dr Whitaker said: “Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stocks globally is critical to ensuring food security and mitigating climate change. Small increases in soil carbon over very large areas could significantly reduce net carbon dioxide emissions from agriculture.

“This project will help to achieve this by advancing our understanding of what makes carbon stable in soils and developing quantitative methods to assess the mitigation potential and feasibility of increasing soil carbon storage across UK and global soils.”

Nick Ostle, of Lancaster University, one of the project’s co-investigators, said controlling climate change required radical and innovative solutions. He added: “Human civilisations have always relied on soil for their survival and success. We need healthy soils more than ever.”

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