How well does soil actually store carbon?

Soil could help us lock away emissions, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about durability — or even how much carbon is in the dirt.

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On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

There’s a lot of buzz right now about paying farmers to trap and store emissions. Soil is a carbon sink, and certain farming practices can accelerate the pace of carbon capture, while others hurt it. 

Enter soil carbon credits to incentivize sequestration through methods such as the use of cover crops, no-till farming and agroforestry. These practices are often grouped together under the umbrella of regenerative agriculture. So what does science say about how well these methods actually lock away carbon?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Eric Slessarev, a staff research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he studies soil carbon. 

Eric says there’s a lot we don’t know about how well these practices actually work. There are even more fundamental questions that need to be addressed before we can figure that out, like how much carbon is in the soil. Turns out dirt is pretty complicated.

They cover topics including:

  • How exactly carbon gets into the soil and why it sticks around.

  • The challenges with measuring soil carbon.

  • The difference between soil carbon and enhanced weathering.

  • How microbes, minerals and the depth of root systems affect storage.

  • Specific practices like no-till farming, agroforestry and cover cropping.

  • Why our soil carbon models may need a big update.

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Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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