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Our research will use range management science, biogeochemistry, soil science, plant ecology, and ecosystem ecology to determine the best approaches for long-term carbon storage in managed ecosystems. Our research will focus on the mechanisms responsible for soil carbon storage and loss, and test promising management approaches for increased plant productivity and long-term soil carbon sequestration. The research results generated as part of the Marin Carbon Project will be subject to peer review and contribute to the growing body of literature on carbon cycling in managed ecosystems.
Verification is a critical step in quantifying soil carbon sequestration and carbon sequestration potential. Verification protocols using the century model will facilitate carbon accounting and contribute to broader participation in carbon markets.
The Implementation program will utilize the research, protocol and outreach guidance developed by the consortium as the foundation for technical and financial assistance to land owners/managers to sequester carbon.
This program will share research results and promising managmeent practices thorugh its web site and activities such as demonstrations, field days, journal articles, workshops and conferences with land owners, practitioners, resource managers, funders and the general public.
Carbon markets can provide incentives for landowners to modify or diversify their management activities by offsetting initial costs of implementation. It is our goal to develop management approaches that are both ecologically and economically sustainable.
This study involves basic and applied research in biogeochemistry, soil science, range management science, plant ecology and ecosystem ecology to determine the best approaches for long-term carbon storage in soil. A preliminary survey in Marin and Sonoma Counties indicated that rangelands have considerable potential to sequester carbon in soils through changes in management practices. We are currently conducting controlled field experiments in Marin County (Nicasio) and in Browns Valley (Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center), California, to test two promising approaches for soil carbon sequestration in rangeland soils: compost addition and subsoiling using the Yeoman plow. We have sampled for soil carbon and nitrogen pools, residual dry matter (standing dead plant biomass), and soil CO2 emissions. This served as the baseline for the treatments, which are being applied now. We are adding compost and using the subsoiler. Treatments include (1) control (grazing only), (2) compost + grazing, (3) subsoiling + grazing, and (4) compost + subsoiling + grazing. We have three replicate plots of each treatment in Marin and six replicate plots of each treatment in Browns Valley.
To determine the potential for management approaches to mitigate climate change and provide value-added through policy and market forces, we need to better understand the complete life cycle of greenhouse gas production and consumption from start to finish. We propose to conduct a life cycle analysis of organic amendments and subsoiling in rangeland soils from our field experiments in Marin County and Browns Valley. The analysis will start with the composting process and finish with the rangeland soil carbon pools and fluxes. This analysis includes:
Verification is the critical step in quantifying soil carbon sequestration and carbon sequestration potential. If the life cycle analysis shows a significant net greenhouse gas savings, not only from the soil carbon sequestered, but from the methane and nitrous oxide emissions reduction from landfills, this research may be used to develop verification protocols for measuring change in soil carbon pools and fluxes. Methane and nitrous oxide have much greater radiative forcing than CO2, meaning that they are much more potent gases from a global warming perspective. Transport to ranches will result in some greenhouse gas costs depending upon the location of landfills relative to composting facilities and rangelands. Any greenhouse gas savings we uncover from the life cycle analysis will increase the value of organic amendments as a tradable carbon offset for ranchers and as a means to slow global climate change.
For carbon sequestration to make a significant impact on climate, the carbon must be stored for at least several years, and ideally for decades or longer. Soils in general have great potential to store carbon for long time periods. This is measured as the mean residence time, which is the length of time, on average, carbon remains in soil. To determine the mean residence time of sequestered carbon we can use isotopically labeled compost and track its movement through solid (mineral, organic, microbial), liquid (dissolved organic carbon), and gas (CO2, methane) phases. We then measure the radioisotope signature of the surrounding soil matrix to estimate its age, and infer storage time-spans of the added carbon. Determining how much, in what form, and where in soils compost carbon is saved or lost from soils will allow us to estimate its impact on the atmosphere. By using a combination of natural stable isotope tracers and the existing radiocarbon signatures, we can determine the long-term fate of sequestered carbon. This is state of the art research that has been developed and applied at Berkeley and surrounding National Labs.