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Expanding the scope of biogeochemical research to accelerate atmospheric carbon capture


The unfolding climate crisis is in many respects a human issue, one caused by anthropogenic emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere, and that can only be solved through a concerted effort across all sectors of society. In this prospective synthesis, I explain how expanding the scope of biogeochemical research would lead to a more rigorous and impactful climate change mitigation and adaptation agenda. Focusing on biogeochemistry as an area of interdisciplinary convergence, I review theories and empirical studies in the environmental and social sciences, to distill five principles and three phases of implementation for sustainable carbon capture projects. I discuss how land conservation, management, and restoration might be coordinated to prepare for climate change and to achieve multiple social and ecological benefits, including enhanced carbon drawdown and permanence on land. On the conservation front, the abundance of threatened plant and animal species spatially correlates with the distribution of carbon- and water-rich habitats within and across key regions, which can be prioritized for biodiversity protection with major climatic benefits. On the management front, long-term records of socioecological change warrant a revision of current models for sustainable forestry and agriculture in favor of decentralized system-specific prescriptions, including interventions where organic or inorganic carbon capture may improve wood and food production under future climate scenarios. On the restoration front, experiments in degraded landscapes reveal mechanisms of carbon stabilization, such as iron-coordination of organic complexes, which amplify the benefits of ecological succession and lead to carbon accumulation beyond thresholds predicted for undisturbed ecosystems. These examples illustrate the potential for innovation at the intersection of basic and applied biogeoscience, which could accelerate atmospheric carbon capture through new discoveries and collective action.

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I would like to thank Brendan Bohannan for productive conversations and suggestions, including the biomedical analogy that inspired portions of this prospective review, and Hillary Rose Dawson for valuable editorial comments that greatly improved this manuscript.


I am thankful for funding from the National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator Program Grant #1939511.

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Correspondence to Lucas C. R. Silva.

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Silva, L.C.R. Expanding the scope of biogeochemical research to accelerate atmospheric carbon capture. Biogeochemistry (2022).

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  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Socioecological systems
  • Biogeoscience