<p>It has been a busy summer. I have moved into a school bus, and departed on a cross-country <a href="/challenge">Soil Carbon Challenge</a> baseline tour. The Challenge is a competition to showcase land managers who can turn atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter.</p><p><img src="/files/images/busingrassland.jpg" alt="school bus in grassland" width="300" height="225" /> <em>In South Dakota.</em> <img src="/files/images/dungbeetles.jpg" alt="dung beetles" width="300" height="204" /> <em>Biodiversity doesn't just sit there. IT DOES THE WORK. Dung beetles at work on a Grasslands/Savory Institute ranch in South Dakota.</em></p><p>After some difficulties with the website during this transition, it is now up and fully functional. See the recent <a href="/diversity-dakotas">update</a> on the Challenge baseline tour, which concludes with an approximate itinerary for the rest of September.</p><p>If you want to help change the way we think about the carbon and water cycles, and the opportunities for enhancing these, please consider the following options:</p><p>1. Enter the Challenge. In North America, we can do replicable baselines for under a thousand dollars, depending on location and timing. Everything we do is open source, and Peter is happy to show others the practical, accurate, and replicable <a href="/files/MeasuringSoilCarbonChange.pdf">monitoring method.</a></p><p>2. Partner with us. Are you an organization, group, municipal government, park and recreation district, or water district with an interest in conservation, sustainable land management, and recognizing <a href="http://www.fastcompany.com/node/42075/print">positive deviants</a> (those who are successful beyond the norm)? Help us connect to people who have achieved or are likely to achieve above-average results in building soil carbon, and want to succeed at it. We can help monitor what land managers in your area are achieving.</p><p>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 will gladly help you do this. With a clearly delimited project, you can get an accounting, in tons, of the atmospheric carbon that is turned into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil carbon. You can start your own localized Soil Carbon Challenge!</p><p><a href="/html/changemap.htm"><img src="/files/images/mapscreenshot.jpg" width="295" /></a>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 on the web.</p><p>4. Ask Peter or one of our <a href="/about">board members</a> or associates to address a group in your area. For example, Peter does the following facilitated workshop, either half or full day:</p><p><b>Discovering the carbon cycle</b></p><p>Most of what we hear about carbon, and the global carbon cycle, is threatening and negative. It is a bad situation, and we do not seem to have much power or leverage over it.</p><p>All of our environmental and economic issues depend on the ways carbon and water move, on every scale from the square foot of soil surface to the entire globe. Human decisions have an enormous influence on the way these cycles function. And underlying human decisions are our beliefs, often based on past experience and training.</p><p>Peter Donovan has been establishing soil carbon baseline measurements on progressive and innovative ranches and farms in the west, and is currently traveling eastward doing the same. He will tell the fascinating and little-known story of the discovery of the carbon cycle, its relation to water, describe what some of these innovative ranchers and farmers are doing to enhance these functions, and facilitate a discussion on ways to take advantage of these enormous opportunities.</p>
|Relatively recent lava flows, Craters of the Moon, Idaho|
Near Arco, Idaho, I passed by the recent lava fields left by the passage of the North American plate over the hotspot that is now under Yellowstone National Park. The older flows have developed pockets of soil that support sagebrush, currant bushes, grasses, and forbs. Spider webs spread over pockets of apparently lifeless black lava, catching seeds, insects, and bits of organic material.
|At night, I've been sleeping out of the bus under the thousands of stars, which like our sun are powered by nuclear fusion reactions that balance and counteract the forces of gravitational collapse. All life is ultimately powered by this energy.|
At midday today, a weather and other instrument panel at a roadside rest stop recorded 987 watts per square meter of incoming solar energy. I'm using some of this with a solar panel, but this energy capture is dwarfed by solar energy capture by plants. Though plants are much less "efficient" than even mediocre photovoltaic panels, they maintain and reproduce themselves and arise willy-nilly on soils that are able to absorb and retain some moisture.
|Two experimental nuclear reactors developed in the late 1950s as possible aircraft engines, at the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 Museum near Arco, Idaho. President Kennedy terminated this billion-dollar program in 1961. The reactors power turbine engines and have substantial mounts to hold them for testing.|
The EBR-1 atomic energy museum near Arco, Idaho, was a fascinating stop. EBR-1 was the first nuclear power plant, and was a breeder reactor, producing plutonium fuel from U-238, and cooled with a mixture of sodium and potassium (NaK). A later design, EBR-2, underwent a successful full-power passive shutdown (no auxiliary power, natural convective cooling of the core via the sodium coolant) one month before the Chernobyl accident in 1986. President Bill Clinton shut down EBR-2 in 1994.
|Doug McDaniel and Peter Donovan as Peter prepares to leave Lostine, Oregon on a cross-country soil carbon monitoring trip, July 21, 2011|
The tour has begun, thanks to supporters and sponsors of the Soil Carbon Challenge! I've spent the last two months converting a used schoolbus into a mobile camper, and moving (and downsizing) into it. I will be on tour for the rest of 2011 in North America, doing baseline carbon plots and presentations/workshops about the carbon cycle, its importance to water, food security, and climate, and about the opportunity to turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter, which is fundamental to human civilization.