Closing the Knowledge Gaps in Soil Management
Management of SOM can increase agricultural productivity, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and protect water systems from contamination. In terms of biodiversity, management approaches that build SOM may also be directly correlated with biodiversity gains and losses. Conversely, mismanagement can release large quantities of carbon to the atmosphere, lower soil productivity, contaminate drinking water, and cause eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems, which also leads to biodiversity declines.
The Managing Soil Carbon Working Group is addressing the two known primary knowledge gaps impeding science-based management of the world’s soils:
- First, while there is a new estimate of how much soil carbon has been lost due to human activity, those estimates are at the global scale. The working group will now be able to pair those estimates with more site-specific data to develop robust estimates for how much soil carbon could potentially be built up in real places. Most aims at building up SOM focus on management effects. But the ability of soil to build up carbon depends largely on the physical soil properties in a given environment. The working group will focus on these soil properties to estimate hot spots of with the most potential to build up soil organic matter. They will do this for California rangelands and Midwestern row-crop agriculture under different realistic scenarios of land management.
- Second, while the importance of soils—and SOM in particular—to human and environmental outcomes is qualitatively well established, there is no quantitative, predictive link between SOM and ecosystem services. To enable the proper valuation of soil, the group will develop estimates of the relationship between SOM and the value of soil as a capital stock input to crop and livestock production. These estimates will be used to assess the potential for targeted management strategies to increase revenues of land managers by managing for improved soil outcomes.
The work will also estimate the economic value of soil as a capital stock, allowing it to be included generally as a component of economic models and conservation decision-making models, such as InVEST.
By the end of its charter, the working group aims to provide quantified, data-based estimates of the potential specific management strategies have to build up soil carbon (reducing CO2 stocks), increase grassland biodiversity, and reduce nutrient loss from agriculture to water systems.