, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 303-322
Date: 21 Apr 2006

Carbon Management in Agricultural Soils

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Abstract

World soils have been a major source of enrichment of atmospheric concentration of CO2 ever since the dawn of settled agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. Historic emission of soil C is estimated at 78 ± 12 Pg out of the total terrestrial emission of 136 ± 55 Pg, and post-industrial fossil fuel emission of 270 ± 30 Pg. Most soils in agricultural ecosystems have lost 50 to 75% of their antecedent soil C pool, with the magnitude of loss ranging from 30 to 60 Mg C/ha. The depletion of soil organic carbon (SOC) pool is exacerbated by soil drainage, plowing, removal of crop residue, biomass burning, subsistence or low-input agriculture, and soil degradation by erosion and other processes. The magnitude of soil C depletion is high in coarse-textured soils (e.g., sandy texture, excessive internal drainage, low activity clays and poor aggregation), prone to soil erosion and other degradative processes. Thus, most agricultural soils contain soil C pool below their ecological potential. Adoption of recommend management practices (e.g., no-till farming with crop residue mulch, incorporation of forages in the rotation cycle, maintaining a positive nutrient balance, use of manure and other biosolids), conversion of agriculturally marginal soils to a perennial land use, and restoration of degraded soils and wetlands can enhance the SOC pool. Cultivation of peatlands and harvesting of peatland moss must be strongly discouraged, and restoration of degraded soils and ecosystems encouraged especially in developing countries. The rate of SOC sequestration is 300 to 500 Kg C/ha/yr under intensive agricultural practices, and 0.8 to 1.0 Mg/ha/yr through restoration of wetlands. In soils with severe depletion of SOC pool, the rate of SOC sequestration with adoption of restorative measures which add a considerable amount of biomass to the soil, and irrigated farming may be 1.0 to 1.5 Mg/ha/yr. Principal mechanisms of soil C sequestration include aggregation, high humification rate of biosolids applied to soil, deep transfer into the sub-soil horizons, formation of secondary carbonates and leaching of bicarbonates into the ground water. The rate of formation of secondary carbonates may be 10 to 15 Kg/ha/yr, and the rate of leaching of bicarbonates with good quality irrigation water may be 0.25 to 1.0 Mg C/ha/yr. The global potential of soil C sequestration is 0.6 to 1.2 Pg C/yr which can off-set about 15% of the fossil fuel emissions.