Biosphere Processes 101

Basic biosphere processes such as water cycle, carbon cycle, both driven by solar energy, and which do much more work than industrial energy.

Cows save the planet: and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth

Judith Schwartz's new book is out (we're in it!):

From the publisher:

Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food

Cows saving the planet? Why not? An idea that sounds preposterous begins to make sense when you take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological predicament.

In Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems—climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity—our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Where do cows fit in?

Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, restore land and help build soil. Rebuilding soil is only one aspect of this important, paradigm-shifting book. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, Schwartz challenges much of the conventional thinking about global warming and other problems. For example, land can suffer from undergrazing as well as overgrazing, since certain landscapes, such as grasslands, require the disturbance from livestock to thrive. Regarding climate, when we focus on carbon dioxide, we neglect the central role of water in soil—“green water”—in temperature regulation. And much of the carbon dioxide that burdens the atmosphere is not the result of fuel emissions, but from agriculture; returning carbon to the soil not only reduces carbon dioxide levels but also enhances soil fertility.

Carbon that counts (Christine Jones)

Christine Jones has a new paper here.

"Failure to acknowledge/ observe/ measure/ learn how to rapidly build fertile topsoil may emerge as one of the greatest oversights of modern civilisation." The paper emphasizes the differences between the decomposition pathway and the liquid carbon pathway, and the consequences of the failure to recognize the difference.

Selman Waksman's HUMUS: Origin, Chemical Composition, and Importance in Nature (1936)

Selman Waksman, a microbiologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1952 for the discovery of streptomycin, wrote this thorough and well-researched book on humus in 1936. It is available as a 21.6 mb pdf (text-searchable) download here.

Though the basics of carbon cycling, including microbial decomposition of soil organic matter and humus, had been established before, Waksman's work clarified the important roles of microbes in the formation and decomposition of soil organic matter. The book is a major milestone in the ongoing discovery of the carbon cycle.

"Humus plays a leading part in the storage of energy of solar origin on the surface of the earth."

Using multi-species cover crops to improve soil health

This is an excellent presentation by Jay Fuhrer, who works for the Natural Resource Conservation Service in North Dakota, USA. He uses case studies to explain how innovative use of cover crops can boost soil health and productivity, and dramatically reduce the use of artificial fertilizers.

The Burleigh County Soil Conservation District website is a gold mine of inspiration and innovation for farmers of all stripes.

http://bcscd.com/?id=23 downloadable powerpoints about soil health

http://bcscd.com/?id=53 video interviews with farmers

Sea WIFS biosphere animation

Watch the global carbon cycle! The link below takes you to a NASA page that loads a 90 megabyte animated GIF file showing chlorophyll concentration (in the oceans) and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, on land) as the seasons change. Note: this page requires a fair bit of computer memory and good internet connection to load the image. It may step around slowly until the image is fully loaded.

http://oceancolor.gsfc.nasa.gov/SeaWiFS/HTML/SeaWiFS.BiosphereAnimation....

Carbon cycle video

The first two segments of a video presentation/animation of the carbon cycle.

Part 1

Part 2

Water and soil demonstration

Soil scientist Ray Archuleta shows a remarkable contrast in the responses of tilled and no-tilled soil to water. Note that the biological glue he speaks of during the second half, substances such as glomalin, are one of the important large compounds that contain soil carbon. The takeaway from this demonstration is also that soil organic carbon has huge leverage on the effectiveness of the water cycle. See also http://managingwholes.com/eco-water-cycle.htm

Soil and society

Charles E. Kellogg wrote an essay published in the United States Department of Agriculture's 1938 Yearbook of Agriculture (Soils and Men). Thanks to Abe Collins for the tip.

Kellogg shares profound insights on how the thinking that prevails in a society can affect its soils, its resource base.

"Do civilizations fall because the soil fails to produce -- or does a soil fail only when the people living on it no longer know how to manage their civilization?"

"It was not the soil of Rome that failed, but the men."

"The final exhaustion of the land follows, not precedes, the exhaustion of the people. In a final effort, exploited people pass their suffering to the land."

Soil and Society (3 Mb pdf file)

John Todd on soil and the carbon cycle

John Todd, of Living Machines fame and the New Alchemy Institute, has an interesting essay on http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/634 about the need for our urban and industrial society to understand the foundational role of soil, and the carbon cycle.

1955 Keyline film

We are indebted to Darren Doherty's website regenag.com for the following information and video:

This is perhaps one of the oldest known films on the Keyline concept filmed on PA Yeomans' former farm 'Nevallan' circa 1955. Its somewhat remarkable from a few perspectives:
* It was produced by a Bank
* It was made at a time when fertiliser technology in agriculture was promising subsidised fertility out of a bag as opposed to conscious design and management of the natural elements
* It is 55 years on and we still have landscapes that rapidly shed water, soils that are eroding, rural communities shrinking, cities not feeding and watering themselves etc. etc. etc.

Keyline Farming 1955 from RegenAG on Vimeo.

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