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Carbon Vaults Beneath Our Feet

Here are two good reasons for optimism about how mankind can hoover up vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

Leaf lying on soil

The world’s plants and animals contain about 560 billion tons of carbon, and there’s another 800 billion tons in the atmosphere, reports Anthropocene Magazine. But soil contains nearly twice as much carbon again - an astonishing 2,500 billion tons. Improving soil’s collection and retention of carbon even by a small percentage could substantially roll back the carbon clock. Adopted globally, simple techniques such as adding compost or biochar, and converting to legumes, could store another 4 gigatons of carbon annually - more than the emissions from every passenger car in the world - according to researchers at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University.

New technologies could potentially store another 2 or 3 gigatons, say the researchers. For example, spreading crushed-up alkaline rock over farmland using existing agricultural equipment could pack millions of years of natural geological weathering into just a few decades. The process would release helpful chemicals, restoring soils and boosting yields, as well as locking away carbon dioxide.

For example, sprinkling rock dust - an abundant byproduct of mining - on farmland could capture a whopping 45 percent of the carbon dioxide required to help the UK meet its 2050 net-zero targets.


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