Agricultural soil erosion is not adding to global warming

Oct 26, 2007

Agricultural soil erosion is not a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, according to research published online today (October 25) in the journal Science. The study was carried out by an international team of researchers from UC Davis, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and the University of Exeter in the U.K.

Carbon emissions are of great concern worldwide because they, and other greenhouse gases, trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and are a major cause of global climate change.

"There is still little known about how much carbon exactly is released, versus captured, by different processes in terrestrial ecosystems," said Johan Six, a professor of agroecology at UC Davis and one of the study's authors. "We urgently need to quantify this if we are to develop sensible and cost-effective measures to combat climate change."

In their new study, the researchers found that erosion acts like a conveyor belt, excavating subsoil, passing it through surface soils and burying it in hollows downhill. During its journey, the soil absorbs carbon from plant material; when the soil is buried, so is the carbon.

Erosion, therefore, creates what can be described as a "sink" of atmospheric carbon.

The team improved previous estimates of the amount of carbon being sunk. Said lead author Kristof Van Oost of the Catholic University of Leuven, "Some academics have argued that soil erosion causes considerable emissions of carbon, and others that erosion is actually offsetting fossil-fuel emissions. Now, our research clearly shows that neither of these is the case."

They found that erosion captures the equivalent of about 1.5 percent of annual fossil-fuel emissions worldwide. Earlier studies suggested a broad range of erosion's effects, from a sink equaling 10 percent of fossil-fuel emissions, to a source equaling 13 percent.

Even without major carbon impacts, the researchers said, erosion is a problem that must be addressed, because it has a detrimental effect on agricultural productivity and the surrounding environment.

Source: University of California - Davis

Explore further: Weird weather lingers in Alaska's largest city

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Remote piloted aircraft maps storm surge impacts

Dec 05, 2014

One year on from the biggest UK storm surge for 60 years, new aerial photos have revealed details of breaches to the natural and man-made coastal defences on part of the East Anglian coastline.

A little rest from grazing improves native grasslands

Dec 04, 2014

Just like us, grasslands need rest to improve their health. A study just published by Point Blue Conservation Science in the journal Ecological Restoration shows a 72 percent increase in where native perennial grasses were f ...

Cover crops can sequester soil organic carbon

Dec 02, 2014

A 12-year University of Illinois study shows that, although the use of cover crops does not improve crop yields, the practice does increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon using three different ...

A thousand years of environmental change in Polynesia

Nov 14, 2014

Environmental change is nothing new in Polynesia. For centuries, the inhabitants of the volcanic, sea-battered islands have been employing a variety of strategies to adapt to their changing landscapes.

Recommended for you

New challenges for ocean acidification research

7 hours ago

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

8 hours ago

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Reaper6971
2 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2007
Take that Global Climate Warming Change!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.