Update April 2011

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So far, ten land managers have entered the Soil Carbon Challenge, an international and local competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter. What this means is that we've done baseline sampling on a few representative plots or microsites, and that this baseline sampling can be repeated with consistency at years 3, 6, and 10 to gauge the amount and rate of soil carbon change, and help to distinguish the effects of management from those of weather.

  Peter sections a soil core sample at the 10 cm mark on a ranch in northern California.

This is not a carbon market or carbon offset scheme. It is aimed at finding out what is possible under above-average management in specific locations and situations, while leaving management practices and methods to the creativity and commitment of the land manager, whether it's a large ranch or an urban back yard. In addition, monitoring soil carbon change will indicate whether these sites are gaining or losing soil carbon, and approximately how fast.

  Water tends to follow carbon in the landscape. Here Peter is using a minidisk tension infiltrometer to gauge the infiltration rate, as an add-on to the soil carbon plot procedure.

It has long been known, but sometimes forgotten, that soil organic matter holds many times its weight in water, buffers and sustains nutrient availability for plant growth, and provides habitat and nourishment for the soil food web. Enhancing soil organic matter is the number one recommendation to land managers of the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service's Soil Quality Team. If you believe as we do that soil carbon, in particular the organic matter fraction, is the keystone of ecological function on land, and which is key to a workable future for human civilization, there are several ways to get involved:

1. Enter the Challenge. In North America, we can do replicable baselines for well under a thousand dollars, depending on location and timing. Contact us; we're planning a monitoring, outreach, and training itinerary for North America in 2011, which will include at minimum the Midwest, New Mexico, and the Northeast. We have hope that Healthy Soils Australia will take up the Challenge in Australia, and want to continue to explore partnerships to do this in Africa and Asia. Contact us if you know of any people or organizations with both interest and capacity to do replicable, practical, and accurate monitoring of soil carbon change, even in a limited area.

2. Partner with us. Are you an organization, group, or water district with an interest in conservation, sustainable land management, and recognizing positive deviants? We can help monitor what land managers in your area are achieving.

3. Make a donation. If you would like to help support a Challenge or monitoring project in a specific area, a specific sector, or even with a specific land manager, we'll gladly help you do this. With a clearly delimited project, you will get an accounting, in tons, of the atmospheric carbon that is turned into soil carbon!

  Our map of soil carbon change is becoming a diverse, site-specific answer to the question, how can we increase soil carbon? Can you help us fill this map? Click on the map to explore it.

4. Help us connect to the positive deviants, those who have achieved or are likely to achieve above-average results in building soil carbon.

Some recent posts on soilcarboncoalition.org

Policy pyramids. For much of the last decade, discussion of the soil carbon opportunity has been topheavy, with very little exploration of what motivated and knowledgeable land managers can achieve. We need to start at the bottom.

Carbon cycling is a process. Must we argue endlessly over "solutions" to our problems? Or can we put selective forces in place to create the future we want?

Terry Gompert. We are saddened by the recent death of Terry Gompert, who was a tireless and visionary advocate for holistic management and increasing soil organic matter. Includes a link to Abe Collins's celebration page for Terry.

Carbon that counts. Another deep and compelling paper by Australian soil scientist Christine Jones.

Google Earth Engine. In February Peter attended a Google Earth outreach workshop in Sausalito, California. Google Earth Engine may soon be able to provide satellite imagery in map format about the amount of photosynthesis that is occurring or has occurred in the past. Look at the article for a tantalizing preview, and look at your land or your area over the months of the year. The Soil Carbon Challenge small plot or microsite method is very well adapted to provide excellent ground-truthing and correlation with this remote sensing data.

California Grassland Carbon Challenge. A brief report on the California launch. We met many people in California who are interested and intrigued by the soil carbon opportunity. Thanks to these people, and to Jeff Goebel, Rich Morris, and Joe Morris for setting up this powerful meeting, we made a start on setting up selective forces to increase soil carbon, including beliefs, behaviors, and replicable monitoring on eight properties.