, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 147–163 | Cite as

Management options for reducing CO2 emissions from agricultural soils

  • K. Paustian
  • J. Six
  • E.T. Elliott
  • H. W. Hunt


Crop-based agriculture occupies 1.7 billion hectares, globally, with a soil C stock of about 170 Pg. Of the past anthropogenic CO2 additions to the atmosphere, about 50 Pg C came from the loss of soil organic matter (SOM) in cultivated soils. Improved management practices, however, can rebuild C stocks in agricultural soils and help mitigate CO2 emissions.

Increasing soil C stocks requires increasing C inputs and/or reducing soil heterotrophic respiration. Management options that contribute to reduced soil respiration include reduced tillage practices (especially no-till) and increased cropping intensity. Physical disturbance associated with intensive soil tillage increases the turnover of soil aggregates and accelerates the decomposition of aggregate-associated SOM. No-till increases aggregate stability and promotes the formation of recalcitrant SOM fractions within stabilized micro- and macroaggregate structures. Experiments using13 C natural abundance show up to a two-fold increase in mean residence time of SOM under no-till vs intensive tillage. Greater cropping intensity, i.e., by reducing the frequency of bare fallow in crop rotations and increasing the use of perennial vegetation, can increase water and nutrient use efficiency by plants, thereby increasing C inputs to soil and reducing organic matter decomposition rates.

Management and policies to sequester C in soils need to consider that: soils have a finite capacity to store C, gains in soil C can be reversed if proper management is not maintained, and fossil fuel inputs for different management practices need to be factored into a total agricultural CO2 balance.

carbon sequestration crop rotation greenhouse gas mitigation no-till soil organic matter soil respiration 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Paustian
    • 1
  • J. Six
    • 2
  • E.T. Elliott
    • 2
  • H. W. Hunt
    • 3
  1. 1.Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsU.S.A.
  2. 2.Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsU.S.A.
  3. 3.Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Department of Rangeland Ecosystem ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsU.S.A.

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