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Large-Scale Carbon Sequestration Research In Europe May Be More Important Than You Think

In the realm of carbon sequestration in agriculture there are practical approaches like regenerative agriculture, including methods like biochar produced by pyrolysis of biomass in the absence of oxygen and returned to the soil, and overarching ideas like permaculture, which is an ethical framework that is used to design regenerative systems at all scales.

Whatever you call it and however you combine it in theory and implement it in regional practices, scalability is always an issue, and we live in a world dominated by intensive industrial agriculture that will be very hard to turn into a net zero emission industry, with emissions from production currently accounting for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Climate Watch, 24 countries have agriculture as the top source of emissions.

So, what is being done about this? Well, it turns out that there are programs covering large regions that try to establish standards that can eventually turn into unified recommendations and/or legislation across nations. Sounds a bit boring maybe, but it is work like this that is crucial if anything of significant scale is going to be viable.

In the following, Line Carlenius Berggreen from the Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture (DCA) at Aarhus University, Denmark, will introduce us to how carbon sequestration may be effective on a very large scale in a project called TRACE-Soils under the European Joint Programme EJP Soil.

Photo by Jesper Berggreen

Under What Conditions Will Carbon Sequestration Benefit Agroecosystem Services?

By enhancing carbon sequestration in soils, agricultural management practices improve agroecosystem services, such as soil quality and biodiversity. However, soil carbon sequestration comes at a cost of other services. A ranked list of climate-zone indicators will increase the predictability of the magnitude of the trade-offs in agricultural soils.

Most trade-offs have to do with climate regulation. It is still uncertain under which conditions the synergies or trade-offs of carbon sequestration prevail. The EJP SOIL project TRACE-Soils is generating applicable mitigation strategies and indicators.

Across a broad range of climatic and soil conditions, TRACE-Soils addresses the following research areas:

    • Look at existing knowledge on how management practices shift soil structure and soil biota, and determine the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O), as well as the losses in nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P).
    • Analyse how trade-offs and synergies link to structural and biological factors in long-term experiments.
    • Scale-up trade-off analysis to the provincial level in Europe by using modelling scenarios. The results will be used to propose a ranked list of climate-zone specific indicators and measures to assess and mitigate the trade-offs of C sequestration.

Experiments Reveal Effects Of Minimising Soil Disturbance

1000 soil samples are collected across seven long-term agricultural experiments participating in the EJP SOIL consortium. All experiments allow research concerning the effects of minimising soil disturbance including three treatments: conventional, reduced and zero tillage. Also, analysis of the chemical, physical and biological attributes of the soil will be performed.

With the gained knowledge the mechanism underpinning the trade-offs associated to soil carbon sequestration practices in Europe will be identified, and it will contribute to the identification of indicators to assess and mitigate trade-offs.

“The results will help raising awareness of the relevance of agricultural practices that increase soil carbon while minimizing trade-offs, and the results will provide clear and applicable mitigation strategies and indicators”, says Marta Goberna, coordinator of TRACE-Soils, National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA) Madrid, Spain.

Finally, the highly collaborative approach implemented in TRACE-Soils enforce the establishment of a strong networks based on the common interest of developing knowledge and tools to foster climate-smart sustainable agricultural soil management.

TRACE-Soils Goal

To identify the mechanisms underpinning trade-offs and synergies of soil carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient losses in agricultural soils across Europe, and propose climate-zone specific indicators and measures to mitigate trade-offs.

TRACE-Soils will identify soil abiotic and biotic predictors of trade-off magnitudes, and test them in long-term experiments across a NE-SW pedoclimatic gradient (the microclimate within soil that integrates the combined effects of its temperature, water content and air mixture) in Europe. Modelling scenarios will be posed to scale-up trade-off analysis to the provincial level.

Outputs of reviews, experiments and models will serve to propose a ranked list of climate-zone specific indicators and measures to assess and mitigate trade-offs.

Image courtesy of EJP Soils

Watch video interviews in the original article.

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Written By

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.


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