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Soil Carbon Sequestration

Published on Aug 15, 2016


Terrestrial carbon sequestration has a potential role in reducing the recent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) that is, in part, contributing to global warming. Because the most stable long-term surface reservoir for carbon is the soil, changes in agriculture and forestry can potentially reduce atmospheric CO2 through increased soil-carbon storage.

If local governments and regional planning agencies are to effect changes in land-use management that could mitigate the impacts of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is essential to know how carbon is cycled and distributed on the landscape. Only then can a cost/benefit analysis be applied to carbon sequestration as a potential land-use management tool for mitigation of GHG emissions.

For the past several years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been researching the role of terrestrial carbon in the global carbon cycle. Data from these investigations now allow the USGS to begin to (1) “map” carbon at national, regional, and local scales; (2) calculate present carbon storage at land surface; and (3) identify those areas having the greatest potential to sequester carbon.

Ongoing efforts of the USGS to achieve these objectives are: • compilation and synthesis of site-specific data needed to estimate carbon storage and inventory in soils, reservoir sediments, wetlands, and lakes of the conterminous United States;

• characterization of present-day carbon storage by landscape feature and environment; and

• prediction of potential carbon storage for land areas identified as possible reservoirs for carbon sequestration.

The initial task required to accomplish the objectives outlined above is to determine current levels of terrestrial soil organic carbon (SOC) storage, and thus enable estimates to be made of net changes in SOC storage related to land use and climate change. Although there may be a sufficient density of sitespecific data to spatially distribute SOC storage values in selected geographic areas, the most readily available method to estimate SOC inventory for the surface meter of any land area in the United States is to (1) calculate site-specific SOC storage for mineral soils (not including surface-organic A Guide to Potential Soil Carbon Sequestration

Land-Use Management for Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions matter or organic soils such as peat; and then (2) link these data to one of two U.S. Department of Agriculture– Natural Resources Conservation Service soil geographic databases (—the State Soil Geographic database or the Soil Survey Geographic database . These databases provide a powerful GIS framework for calculating SOC inventories at scales ranging from national (STATSGO) to county

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