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Charles Petit, “Soil’s Hidden Secrets: Shocking Discoveries From the Underground May Shake Up Climate Science,” Science News (January 28, 2012).
Climate change has been the subject of considerable political debate, but in the meantime, scientists researching plant growth and carbon levels are involved in “a quiet revolution in soil science,” notes the author. He observes, “[s]cientists around the world are closing in on some dirty truths about carbon emissions and climate change.” At issue is how soil will respond to climate change. According to the author,
This new understanding may include whether soil will speed up the pace of warming or slow it down as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other carbon-rich greenhouse gases build up. Soil scientists don’t question the urgency of dealing with fossil fuel emissions, but forecasting the course of global warming depends on understanding how the planet deals with carbon. Soil, for now, is a major wild card. . . . Soil organic material is about 60 percent carbon. . . . If the bank of carbon held in the world’s soils were to drop by just 0.3 percent, the release would equal a year’s worth of fossil fuel emissions.
Though research remains preliminary, a deeper understanding of soil’s response to climate change may affect agricultural and forestry practices and related regulation.