By Jane Davis
The carbon cycle is at the heart of climate change. We have more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere than leaving it. You know the culprits: deforestation, soil disturbance, the burning of fossil fuels, etc but we haven’t figured out how to regulate these levels of carbon. Carbon exists in many ecosystems. In fact, carbon itself changes into different forms as it moves through earth’s land, oceans, atmosphere and biosphere.
Over millions of years the earth has stored up energy locked in biological matter in the form of oil, coal, peat and natural gas. Over the last couple hundred years we have been digging out that store and using it up, and pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Without some way to drastically reduce our consumption, we’ve got to find some way to get that nasty CO2 from constantly increasing around us. Sort of like herding cats, right?
Can nature come to our rescue? The oceans absorb much of our carbon. Soil and plant matter does as well, soil most of all. Soil holds 5 to 6 times the amount of carbon as the plants, ocean and atmosphere. How do plants help regulate the carbon levels around us? Plants transform carbon from the air and store it in biological matter. This process essentially stores energy like the charging of a battery. The energy is released when the hydrocarbons in the biological matter are broken down. The stored energy is then released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. This process releases about ten times as much carbon dioxide as that released by direct human activity – and the amount appears to be increasing. Let’s not even mention methane!
To change our trajectory, various ideas have been proposed. One approach is to isolate the carbon dioxide with chemical filters and store it away from the atmosphere in “sinks”. Proposed sinks include depleted oil wells and brine filled porous rocks deep underground. Natural carbon sinks include woodland and wetland areas and in addition to these proposed sinks, preservation and restoration in these areas has become an important environmental issue.
The soil itself provides a major carbon sink and can be an increasingly useful factor in carbon sequestration. The right agricultural soil management can make a major contribution. Simply turning the soil interrupts the ecosystem in the soil and encourages carbon loss. No-till systems can mitigate this problem.
Other helpful practices can be used both agriculturally or domestically. Put simply, covering as much of the soil with plants creates as much photosynthetic activity as possible. Covering the ground with organic mulch protects the soil from sun and encourages carbon-capturing microbial activity. If we can keep Mother Nature’s wheels turning we will hopefully find more ways she can help us get back on the right track.
About the Author: Jane, coming from a long line of keen amateur gardeners, Left the hi-tech corporate life and decided to make a career in horticulture. She went to school at UCLA gaining a Certificate in Gardening and Horticulture. She is also a Certified Professional with Green Gardens Group. In addition she a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. The issues of water conservation and respect for the environment have been a prime focus for Jane. Since she is English she naturally and gracefully emulates the English Cottage Garden style landscapes using plants that are water wise and thrive in this climate, with special reference to the use of native plants. To learn more about Jane go to her website www.jdgardens.com