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The Practical Science of Soil Carbon Sequestration   The Fixed Molecule Theory  Vs The Cycling Molecule Theory There is a battle between the belief that only stable fractions of soil carbon can be traded and the belief that only Total Carbon is necessary. The outcome will determine whether agricultural soils can achieve the dramatic levels of “drawdown” of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases claimed by those who believe soil carbon can be a “secure bridge to the future”.
The Fixed Molecule Theory “ Carbon is sequestered in soil when rendered immobile in the form of stable fractions such as humus. “ Carbon held temporarily in labile fractions cannot be said to be sequestered because it is oxidised in a short time. “ Therefore only carbon stored in soil as humus or char can be counted towards a farmer’s tradable tonneages of stored carbon.” Stable fractions are often the smallest. Such a restraint would reduce the incentive for landholders to revert and lose the benefits to society of the sequestration .
The Cycling Molecule Theory Carbon by its nature cycles.  The Carbon Cycle is fundamental to life on Earth. All forms of Carbon are cycling between sink and source. These cycles vary in length of time, some very short, some very long, depending on the nature of the sink. No sink is permanent.  All sinks act like ‘holding bays’ - some hold Carbon Molecules for centuries and some for seconds.
The Cycling Molecule Theory Climate Change is caused by imbalance in the cycles: ie. too much carbon is being held in the Atmosphere and the Ocean and not enough in other forms. Carbon sequestration occurs when the Carbon Cycle is adjusted to delay its transition from one form to another. When Carbon is captured by Vegetation and becomes a component of soil it enters a ‘holding bay’. Sequestration takes place when the amount Carbon in the holding bay increases and that increase is maintained.
The Cycling Molecule Theory The volume of Carbon in the holding bay is not affected by the rate of C atoms escaping so long as the rate of C atoms arriving remains equivalent or greater. If the rate of arrivals is equal to the rate of departures, Carbon is said to be in a “ steady state ”. If the rate of arrivals exceeds that of departures, Carbon is said to be  sequestered . If the rate of arrivals falls short of the rate of departures, Carbon is said to be  emitted .
“ Molecular Value” Therefore the key to sequestration in soil is not the individual molecule but the representative value of a molecule. Increases in “Molecular Value” can be created by changing land management practices. These changes can start with: Ceasing to cause losses of Carbon from soil. Ie., refraining from baring the soil by ploughing, burning, overgrazing.
A B C Land Management: Conventional, Business-As-Usual  Ploughing, Burning, Overgrazing, Bare Earth System is Emitting (- 1)
Land Management: Change #1 The introduction of No-Till Cultivation or Grazing Management can lead to Reduced Emissions. (+1) A Y Z
Change Land Management 50% of Australia’s top soil has been lost in 200 years of conventional land management 75% of Organic Carbon has been lost at the same time By changing to a neutral position - not emitting/not sequestering (steady state) - the land manager has made a positive contribution in ‘foregone emissions’. The ‘holding bay’ contains more Carbon.
Land Management: Continue Change #1 Continuation Grazing Management Over Time Incorporation OM in Soil More Efficiently Sequestration 4 - 1 = 3 X Y Z W
The Impact of Time The act of changing land management has one impact on the holding bay. The effect of time on the process has another impact. Ie. Planned grazing uses the movement of animals to increase the efficiency of the conversion of sunlight into vegetation. The effect of even grazing, even distribution of dung, and the tilling effect of hooves in concentrated areas - combined with long recovery periods - is a gradual increase in fertility and biological activity until a tipping point is reached and vegetation and soil condition improve rapidly. These indicate increases in Carbon levels.
Land Management: Change #2 Additional OM added to Soil Compost, Manures, Mulches, etc. Sequestration 5 - 1 = 4 X Y V W U
The “Bucket” Theory The Bucket Theory of Soil Carbon Sequestration holds that Carbon levels can ONLY be increased by the addition of Organic Matter. This is incorrect. Increased Organic Matter does nurture micro-organisms which manufacture soil carbon. But there are at least two other ways to increase carbon in soils: 1. Microbial Community Optimisation; and  2. Phototrophism (or in-soil photosynthesis).
The “Bucket” Theory Inputs Carbon captured by plants and added to soil Addition of waste organic materials Losses Conversion of organic C to CO 2 Erosion
The “Bucket” Theory T h e amount of organic carbon in soil is a balance between the build-up which comes from inputs of new plant and animal material and the constant losses where the carbon is decomposed and the constituents separate to mineral nutrients and gases, or are washed or leached away. This theory limits the amount of carbon a soil can sequester to a theoretical  ceiling of biomass introduced into the soil.
Land Management: Changed Balance Microbial Community to Increase Effectiveness (+) by using Compost Teas, Probiotic Inoculants, etc. Sequestration 4 - 1 + 2 + 1 = 6 + X V W U S T R
Microbial Community Optimisation Microbial communities are at their most effective when they are balanced. When one or several links in the chain are missing, the processes of decomposition and photosynthesis can never be fully effective. Just as a football team with several positions unmanned cannot hope to score. Inoculating soil with the missing members of the community is like putting players into empty positions. The effectiveness of the team is increased by an order of magnitude.
Land Management: Changed Encourage Autotrophic/Phototrophic Microbes (eg. Cyanobacteria) Sequestration 6 - 1 + 2 + 1 = 8 + + V W U S T R Q P
Photosynthetic Microbes There is a class of microbial life called ‘autotrophic’ or ‘phototrophic’ that do not rely on Organic Matter for their sustenance. They use solar energy to grow via the process of photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria and Algae are examples. These add Carbon independently of other processes.
The “Bucket” Theory Au totrophic bacteria  obtain their energy from sunlight ( by photosynthesis)  or the oxidation of ammonium, sulfur, and iron. They get their carbon from carbon dioxide .  •  phototrophic cyanobacteria  •  green sulfur-bacteria •  some purple bacteria •  many chemolithotrophic species, such as  nitrifying or sulfur-oxidising bacteria.* Many species of algae live in soils and photosynthesise their carbon as plants do. *Hellingwerf K, Crielaard W, Hoff W, Matthijs H, Mur L, van Rotterdam B (1994). "Photobiology of bacteria". Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 65 (4): 33147. doi:10.1007/BF00872217. PMID 7832590.
Microbes and Methane Increased microbial activity automatically means increased methane emissions as the microbes die. Increased microbial activity also means increased carbon production. A landholder can manage their soil for microbes (ie. bacteria-dominance vs fungi-dominance).
Land Management: Continued + + + R Q P O N M L J K Increased Oxidation From Additional Microbial Activity Increased Carbon From Additional Microbial Activity
The Molecular Value Theory The logic behind the Molecular Value Theory supports the contention that only Total Carbon is necessary or trading purposes. Focus on fractions has several negative outcomes: It complicates the process of measurement. It makes measurement more expensive. It denies the landholder the right to sell    sequestered carbon. It delays the commencement of trading and the  benefits to society of biosequestration.
For what purpose? Total Carbon at Point In Time B  MINUS Total Carbon at Point In Time A =  Carbon Sequestered For Purpose of Trade. Total Carbon is all that is needed for trade.
The Soil Carbon Institute exists to build awareness of the role of soil carbon in ecosystems, communities, economies, societies and civilizations. The Soil Carbon Institute aims to grow the knowledge base of soil carbon by encouraging independent research and promoting learning opportunities. It hopes to provide a neutral space where members of the science and land manager communities can exchange ideas and data and form working partnerships. The Institute welcomes contributions in the form of research papers and reports, contributions to debates about soil carbon, and knowledge resources in whatever forms from interested individuals and companies. The Institute is not-for-profit and relies on financial support from those who see worth in its role and output. Your support is welcomed.  Contact (02) 6374 0329

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Trading Soil Carbon Credits: Why We Can Trade Total Carbon

  • 1. The Practical Science of Soil Carbon Sequestration The Fixed Molecule Theory Vs The Cycling Molecule Theory There is a battle between the belief that only stable fractions of soil carbon can be traded and the belief that only Total Carbon is necessary. The outcome will determine whether agricultural soils can achieve the dramatic levels of “drawdown” of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases claimed by those who believe soil carbon can be a “secure bridge to the future”.
  • 2. The Fixed Molecule Theory “ Carbon is sequestered in soil when rendered immobile in the form of stable fractions such as humus. “ Carbon held temporarily in labile fractions cannot be said to be sequestered because it is oxidised in a short time. “ Therefore only carbon stored in soil as humus or char can be counted towards a farmer’s tradable tonneages of stored carbon.” Stable fractions are often the smallest. Such a restraint would reduce the incentive for landholders to revert and lose the benefits to society of the sequestration .
  • 3. The Cycling Molecule Theory Carbon by its nature cycles. The Carbon Cycle is fundamental to life on Earth. All forms of Carbon are cycling between sink and source. These cycles vary in length of time, some very short, some very long, depending on the nature of the sink. No sink is permanent. All sinks act like ‘holding bays’ - some hold Carbon Molecules for centuries and some for seconds.
  • 4. The Cycling Molecule Theory Climate Change is caused by imbalance in the cycles: ie. too much carbon is being held in the Atmosphere and the Ocean and not enough in other forms. Carbon sequestration occurs when the Carbon Cycle is adjusted to delay its transition from one form to another. When Carbon is captured by Vegetation and becomes a component of soil it enters a ‘holding bay’. Sequestration takes place when the amount Carbon in the holding bay increases and that increase is maintained.
  • 5. The Cycling Molecule Theory The volume of Carbon in the holding bay is not affected by the rate of C atoms escaping so long as the rate of C atoms arriving remains equivalent or greater. If the rate of arrivals is equal to the rate of departures, Carbon is said to be in a “ steady state ”. If the rate of arrivals exceeds that of departures, Carbon is said to be sequestered . If the rate of arrivals falls short of the rate of departures, Carbon is said to be emitted .
  • 6. “ Molecular Value” Therefore the key to sequestration in soil is not the individual molecule but the representative value of a molecule. Increases in “Molecular Value” can be created by changing land management practices. These changes can start with: Ceasing to cause losses of Carbon from soil. Ie., refraining from baring the soil by ploughing, burning, overgrazing.
  • 7. A B C Land Management: Conventional, Business-As-Usual Ploughing, Burning, Overgrazing, Bare Earth System is Emitting (- 1)
  • 8. Land Management: Change #1 The introduction of No-Till Cultivation or Grazing Management can lead to Reduced Emissions. (+1) A Y Z
  • 9. Change Land Management 50% of Australia’s top soil has been lost in 200 years of conventional land management 75% of Organic Carbon has been lost at the same time By changing to a neutral position - not emitting/not sequestering (steady state) - the land manager has made a positive contribution in ‘foregone emissions’. The ‘holding bay’ contains more Carbon.
  • 10. Land Management: Continue Change #1 Continuation Grazing Management Over Time Incorporation OM in Soil More Efficiently Sequestration 4 - 1 = 3 X Y Z W
  • 11. The Impact of Time The act of changing land management has one impact on the holding bay. The effect of time on the process has another impact. Ie. Planned grazing uses the movement of animals to increase the efficiency of the conversion of sunlight into vegetation. The effect of even grazing, even distribution of dung, and the tilling effect of hooves in concentrated areas - combined with long recovery periods - is a gradual increase in fertility and biological activity until a tipping point is reached and vegetation and soil condition improve rapidly. These indicate increases in Carbon levels.
  • 12. Land Management: Change #2 Additional OM added to Soil Compost, Manures, Mulches, etc. Sequestration 5 - 1 = 4 X Y V W U
  • 13. The “Bucket” Theory The Bucket Theory of Soil Carbon Sequestration holds that Carbon levels can ONLY be increased by the addition of Organic Matter. This is incorrect. Increased Organic Matter does nurture micro-organisms which manufacture soil carbon. But there are at least two other ways to increase carbon in soils: 1. Microbial Community Optimisation; and 2. Phototrophism (or in-soil photosynthesis).
  • 14. The “Bucket” Theory Inputs Carbon captured by plants and added to soil Addition of waste organic materials Losses Conversion of organic C to CO 2 Erosion
  • 15. The “Bucket” Theory T h e amount of organic carbon in soil is a balance between the build-up which comes from inputs of new plant and animal material and the constant losses where the carbon is decomposed and the constituents separate to mineral nutrients and gases, or are washed or leached away. This theory limits the amount of carbon a soil can sequester to a theoretical ceiling of biomass introduced into the soil.
  • 16. Land Management: Changed Balance Microbial Community to Increase Effectiveness (+) by using Compost Teas, Probiotic Inoculants, etc. Sequestration 4 - 1 + 2 + 1 = 6 + X V W U S T R
  • 17. Microbial Community Optimisation Microbial communities are at their most effective when they are balanced. When one or several links in the chain are missing, the processes of decomposition and photosynthesis can never be fully effective. Just as a football team with several positions unmanned cannot hope to score. Inoculating soil with the missing members of the community is like putting players into empty positions. The effectiveness of the team is increased by an order of magnitude.
  • 18. Land Management: Changed Encourage Autotrophic/Phototrophic Microbes (eg. Cyanobacteria) Sequestration 6 - 1 + 2 + 1 = 8 + + V W U S T R Q P
  • 19. Photosynthetic Microbes There is a class of microbial life called ‘autotrophic’ or ‘phototrophic’ that do not rely on Organic Matter for their sustenance. They use solar energy to grow via the process of photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria and Algae are examples. These add Carbon independently of other processes.
  • 20. The “Bucket” Theory Au totrophic bacteria obtain their energy from sunlight ( by photosynthesis) or the oxidation of ammonium, sulfur, and iron. They get their carbon from carbon dioxide . • phototrophic cyanobacteria • green sulfur-bacteria • some purple bacteria • many chemolithotrophic species, such as nitrifying or sulfur-oxidising bacteria.* Many species of algae live in soils and photosynthesise their carbon as plants do. *Hellingwerf K, Crielaard W, Hoff W, Matthijs H, Mur L, van Rotterdam B (1994). "Photobiology of bacteria". Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 65 (4): 33147. doi:10.1007/BF00872217. PMID 7832590.
  • 21. Microbes and Methane Increased microbial activity automatically means increased methane emissions as the microbes die. Increased microbial activity also means increased carbon production. A landholder can manage their soil for microbes (ie. bacteria-dominance vs fungi-dominance).
  • 22. Land Management: Continued + + + R Q P O N M L J K Increased Oxidation From Additional Microbial Activity Increased Carbon From Additional Microbial Activity
  • 23. The Molecular Value Theory The logic behind the Molecular Value Theory supports the contention that only Total Carbon is necessary or trading purposes. Focus on fractions has several negative outcomes: It complicates the process of measurement. It makes measurement more expensive. It denies the landholder the right to sell sequestered carbon. It delays the commencement of trading and the benefits to society of biosequestration.
  • 24. For what purpose? Total Carbon at Point In Time B MINUS Total Carbon at Point In Time A = Carbon Sequestered For Purpose of Trade. Total Carbon is all that is needed for trade.
  • 25. The Soil Carbon Institute exists to build awareness of the role of soil carbon in ecosystems, communities, economies, societies and civilizations. The Soil Carbon Institute aims to grow the knowledge base of soil carbon by encouraging independent research and promoting learning opportunities. It hopes to provide a neutral space where members of the science and land manager communities can exchange ideas and data and form working partnerships. The Institute welcomes contributions in the form of research papers and reports, contributions to debates about soil carbon, and knowledge resources in whatever forms from interested individuals and companies. The Institute is not-for-profit and relies on financial support from those who see worth in its role and output. Your support is welcomed. Contact (02) 6374 0329