Soil Carbon Sequestration: Bridging the Gap between Science and Commerce

A special issue of Land (ISSN 2073-445X). This special issue belongs to the section "Land–Climate Interactions".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2021) | Viewed by 15629

Special Issue Editors

Planetary Emissions Management (PEM), Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Interests: soil carbon; forest carbon; eddy covariance; CO2 emissions; isotope; soil CO efflux; Paris agreement

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Guest Editor
Colorado State University, Department of Soil & Crop Sciences, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
Interests: soil carbon cycling in grasslands and intensive agricultural systems

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We recognize that soil and soil carbon are the foundation for literally all our food production and livelihood that depends on the land. The commercial industries that impact soil and soil carbon include cattle ranching, agroforestry, community and high productivity farming, among many other uses by communities and individuals. We appeal for contributions from industry to science to thought leaders.

Active soil carbon sequestration (SCS) is an emerging commercial solution to CO2 emissions management, partially driven by entrepreneurs seeking financial returns and social good. However, claims of net SCS reduction and resulting financial products are unverified and subject to invalidation risk, diminishing SCS’s potential impact.

Cultural practices promoting “soil health” are argued as effective for SCS, while soil scientists broadly dismiss the likelihood of success in demonstrating net reductions of atmospheric CO2 relevant to climate change management. Soil carbon’s magnitude (approximately three times that of the atmosphere), the global scale of increasing anthropogenic interactions (via deforestation, agriculture, etc.), and climate change’s unknown impact on soil carbon expose surprising gaps in the translation of science to commercial SCS management. These gaps are crucial to commercial-scale sustainable management of soil carbon and related CO2 emissions, yet innovation to bridge the “know-how” gap between science and commerce is missing.

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This Special Issue explores the intersection of soil carbon science, net SCS verification frameworks, and monetization to financial markets. The Special Issue’s theme extends across the terrestrial biosphere, from pole to pole, across policy (e.g., Paris Agreement and REDD+) domains, biospheric applications (e.g., forestry, agroforestry, and intensive agriculture), and carbon trading platforms worldwide (both voluntary and compliance).

Importantly, this Special Issue seeks innovative contributions that propose or demonstrate a set of unifying measurements, models, and transactions to account for, manage, and monetize SCS with net benefit to the atmospheric burden of CO2. As such, this Special Issue encourages diverse SCS collaborations involving networked sensors (e.g., the Internet of Things), real-time data analysis, and integration with global carbon pricing platforms.

This Special Issue is relevant because contemporary society is in a strange conflict with our self-induced climate change, whereby humanity’s success depends upon diminishing natural resources that sustain our way of life. The biosphere’s soil carbon component will surely impact our lives in the short term. However, what we do as scientists and entrepreneurs now to sustain and manage soil carbon will shape the biosphere for future generations.

Dr. Bruno Marino
Prof. Dr. Eugene Kelly
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • Soil carbon sequestration
  • Monetization
  • Internet of Things
  • Net carbon sequestration
  • Carbon trading
  • Carbon commerce
  • Verification
  • Carbon pricing
  • Paris Agreement
  • REDD+

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

15 pages, 6781 KiB  
Article
Soil Organic Carbon Isotope Tracing in Sorghum under Ambient CO2 and Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE)
by Steven W. Leavitt, Li Cheng, David G. Williams, Talbot Brooks, Bruce A. Kimball, Paul J. Pinter, Gerard W. Wall, Michael J. Ottman, Allan D. Matthias, Eldor A. Paul, Thomas L. Thompson and Neal R. Adam
Land 2022, 11(2), 309; https://doi.org/10.3390/land11020309 - 18 Feb 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1750
Abstract
As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, [CO2Air], continue their uncontrolled rise, the capacity of soils to accumulate or retain carbon is uncertain. Free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiments have been conducted to better understand the plant, soil and ecosystem response to elevated [...] Read more.
As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, [CO2Air], continue their uncontrolled rise, the capacity of soils to accumulate or retain carbon is uncertain. Free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiments have been conducted to better understand the plant, soil and ecosystem response to elevated [CO2], frequently employing commercial CO2 that imparts a distinct isotopic signal to the system for tracing carbon. We conducted a FACE experiment in 1998 and 1999, whereby sorghum (C4 photosynthetic pathway) was grown in four replicates of four treatments using a split-strip plot design: (i) ambient CO2/ample water (365 μmol mol−1, “Control–Wet”), (ii) ambient CO2/water stress (“Control–Dry”), (iii) CO2-enriched (560 μmol mol−1, “FACE–Wet”), and (iv) CO2-enriched/water stressed (“FACE–Dry”). The stable-carbon isotope composition of the added CO2 (in FACE treatments) was close to that of free atmosphere background values, so the subsequent similar 13C-enriched carbon signal photosynthetically fixed by C4 sorghum plants could be used to trace the fate of carbon in both FACE and control treatments. Measurement of soil organic carbon content (SOC (%) = gC/gdry soil × 100%) and δ13C at three depths (0–15, 15–30, and 30–60 cm) were made on soils from the beginning and end of the two experimental growing seasons. A progressive ca. 0.5‰–1.0‰ δ13C increase in the upper soil SOC in all treatments over the course of the experiment indicated common entry of new sorghum carbon into the SOC pools. The 0–15 cm SOC in FACE treatments was 13C-enriched relative to the Control by ca. 1‰, and according to isotopic mass balance, the fraction of the new sorghum-derived SOC in the Control–Wet treatment at the end of the second season was 8.4%, 14.2% in FACE–Wet, 6.5% in Control–Dry, and 14.2% in FACE–Dry. The net SOC enhancement resulting from CO2 enrichment was therefore 5.8% (or 2.9% y−1 of experiment) under ample water and 7.7% (3.8% y−1 of experiment) under limited water, which matches the pattern of greater aboveground biomass increase with elevated [CO2Air] under the Dry treatment, but no parallel isotopic shifts were found in deeper soils. However, these increased fractions of new carbon in SOC at the end of the experiment do not necessarily mean an increase in total SOC content, because gravimetric measurements of SOC did not reveal a significant increase under elevated [CO2Air], at least within the limits of SOC-content error bars. Thus, new carbon gains might be offset by pre-experiment carbon losses. The results demonstrate successful isotopic tracing of carbon from plants to soils in this sorghum FACE experiment showing differences between FACE and Control treatments, which suggest more dynamic cycling of SOC under elevated [CO2Air] than in the Control treatment. Full article
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19 pages, 286 KiB  
Article
A Lens for Analysis of Payment for Ecosystem Services Systems: Transitioning the Working Lands Economic Sector from Extractive Industry to Regenerative System
by Gordon N. Merrick
Land 2021, 10(6), 637; https://doi.org/10.3390/land10060637 - 15 Jun 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3464
Abstract
Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) systems are gaining attention worldwide. These systems are an increasingly used incentive structure for conservation, presenting a significant opportunity for science to impact and shape commerce. However, PES systems lack a unifying framework to analyze and evaluate them [...] Read more.
Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) systems are gaining attention worldwide. These systems are an increasingly used incentive structure for conservation, presenting a significant opportunity for science to impact and shape commerce. However, PES systems lack a unifying framework to analyze and evaluate them from multiple perspectives, including ecological revitalization alongside economic and social revitalization. In this study, I formulate a new analytical framework that accommodates both public and private PES systems, and test the framework with hypotheticals from both systems. Utilizing the framework developed, this article shows that publicly-operated PES systems function optimally, as a public system provides optimized benefits regarding societal and ecological outcomes, now and for future generations. Full article
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17 pages, 2635 KiB  
Article
Howland Forest, ME, USA: Multi-Gas Flux (CO2, CH4, N2O) Social Cost Product Underscores Limited Carbon Proxies
by Bruno D. V. Marino, Nahuel Bautista and Brandt Rousseaux
Land 2021, 10(4), 436; https://doi.org/10.3390/land10040436 - 20 Apr 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3207
Abstract
Forest carbon sequestration is a widely accepted natural climate solution. However, methods to determine net carbon offsets are based on commercial carbon proxies or CO2 eddy covariance research with limited methodological comparisons. Non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHG) (e.g., CH4, N [...] Read more.
Forest carbon sequestration is a widely accepted natural climate solution. However, methods to determine net carbon offsets are based on commercial carbon proxies or CO2 eddy covariance research with limited methodological comparisons. Non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHG) (e.g., CH4, N2O) receive less attention in the context of forests, in part, due to carbon denominated proxies and to the cost for three-gas eddy covariance platforms. Here we describe and analyze results for direct measurement of CO2, CH4, and N2O by eddy covariance and forest carbon estimation protocols at the Howland Forest, ME, the only site where these methods overlap. Limitations of proxy-based protocols, including the exclusion of sink terms for non-CO2 GHGs, applied to the Howland project preclude multi-gas forest products. In contrast, commercial products based on direct measurement are established by applying molecule-specific social cost factors to emission reductions creating a new forest offset (GHG-SCF), integrating multiple gases into a single value of merit for forest management of global warming. Estimated annual revenue for GHG-SCF products, applicable to the realization of a Green New Deal, range from ~$120,000 USD covering the site area of ~557 acres in 2021 to ~$12,000,000 USD for extrapolation to 40,000 acres in 2040, assuming a 3% discount rate. In contrast, California Air Resources Board compliance carbon offsets determined by the Climate Action Reserve protocol show annual errors of up to 2256% relative to eddy covariance data from two adjacent towers across the project area. Incomplete carbon accounting, offset over-crediting and inadequate independent offset verification are consistent with error results. The GHG-SCF product contributes innovative science-to-commerce applications incentivizing restoration and conservation of forests worldwide to assist in the management of global warming. Full article
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22 pages, 3487 KiB  
Article
Science to Commerce: A Commercial-Scale Protocol for Carbon Trading Applied to a 28-Year Record of Forest Carbon Monitoring at the Harvard Forest
by Nahuel Bautista, Bruno D. V. Marino and J. William Munger
Land 2021, 10(2), 163; https://doi.org/10.3390/land10020163 - 6 Feb 2021
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 4134
Abstract
Forest carbon sequestration offset protocols have been employed for more than 20 years with limited success in slowing deforestation and increasing forest carbon trading volume. Direct measurement of forest carbon flux improves quantification for trading but has not been applied to forest carbon [...] Read more.
Forest carbon sequestration offset protocols have been employed for more than 20 years with limited success in slowing deforestation and increasing forest carbon trading volume. Direct measurement of forest carbon flux improves quantification for trading but has not been applied to forest carbon research projects with more than 600 site installations worldwide. In this study, we apply carbon accounting methods, scaling hours to decades to 28-years of scientific CO2 eddy covariance data for the Harvard Forest (US-Ha1), located in central Massachusetts, USA and establishing commercial carbon trading protocols and applications for similar sites. We illustrate and explain transactions of high-frequency direct measurement for CO2 net ecosystem exchange (NEE, gC m−2 year−1) that track and monetize ecosystem carbon dynamics in contrast to approaches that rely on forest mensuration and growth models. NEE, based on eddy covariance methodology, quantifies loss of CO2 by ecosystem respiration accounted for as an unavoidable debit to net carbon sequestration. Retrospective analysis of the US-Ha1 NEE times series including carbon pricing, interval analysis, and ton-year exit accounting and revenue scenarios inform entrepreneur, investor, and landowner forest carbon commercialization strategies. CO2 efflux accounts for ~45% of the US-Ha1 NEE, an error of ~466% if excluded; however, the decades-old coupled human and natural system remains a financially viable net carbon sink. We introduce isoflux NEE for t13C16O2 and t12C18O16O to directly partition and quantify daytime ecosystem respiration and photosynthesis, creating new soil carbon commerce applications and derivative products in contrast to undifferentiated bulk soil carbon pool approaches. Eddy covariance NEE methods harmonize and standardize carbon commerce across diverse forest applications including, a New England, USA regional eddy covariance network, the Paris Agreement, and related climate mitigation platforms. Full article
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