Measuring and predicting soil carbon to offset climate change

KBS Long-Term Ecological Research scientists awarded a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to study possible climate outcomes.

When an unproductive swath of farmland is planted with row crops, it results in environmental damage with little to no yield. Instead, farmers can cultivate native plants in those spaces that improve soil health and support other native species. The USDA Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, offers them financial incentives to do just that.

KBS LTER scientist, Bruno Basso.

Measuring soil carbon for improved soil health

Now, Michigan State University Foundation Professor and W.K. Kellogg Biological Station researcher Bruno Basso is leading a charge to sample, measure and model soil carbon in CRP areas. With a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, Basso and his team will sample top and bottom layers of soil from some 600 sites across the Great Plains, Midwest, Mississippi River Valley, the Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Northwest regions of the United States.

MSU researchers Andrew Finley, Matthew Gammans and Steve Hamilton—also a faculty member at KBS—are collaborators on the project, along with Taylor Lark at the University of Wisconsin, Christopher Mathis at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Scott Jackson at Deveron, Will Brinton at Woods End Laboratories.

The Basso Lab will model soil carbon dynamics under different CRP management scenarios to evaluate the effects on the carbon stored in the soil. The research will continue over at least the next five years to provide monitoring of soil carbon in CRP land.

“This is important for looking at potential future climate outcomes,” Basso said. “This information can help farm managers and policymakers better plan for the future of our soils and natural resources in general and to use them effectively against climate change threats.”

This story was originally published by MSU Today, written by Emilie Lorditch, and the Kellogg Biological Station.