The objective of the SWCS Southern New England Chapter is to promote, educate and advance all phases of the science of conservation of soil, water, and all related resources. With this mission in mind, the Chapter hosts an annual winter conference to discuss new and local conservation topics. This year’s theme is soil carbon sequestration. We will have several presenters representing all angles of soil conservation who will dive into topics like blue carbon, carbon credits, regenerative agriculture, soil productivity, and climate change regulations and mitigation. This was a virtual, one-day event on Friday, March 25, 2022.
Dr. Lal is an entrepreneur, a distinguished university professor, and a globally renowned soil scientist. Currently, Lal is the Director of the CFAES Rattan Lal Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration at the Ohio State University. Dr. Lal received the Glinka World Soil Price in 2018, the World Food Prize in 2020, the Good Will Ambassador of IICA in 2020, and the Padma Shri Award in 2021. His research interests are in regenerative agriculture, soil carbon sequestration, soil restoration, natural resource management, and global food security. President Biden appointed Lal as a Member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development in January 2022.
The World Food Prize writes, “Dr. Rattan Lal, a native of India and a citizen of the United States, wil I receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soilcentric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change. Over his career spanning more than five decades and four continents, Dr. Lal has promoted innovative soil-saving techniques benefiting the livelihoods of more than 500 million smallholder farmers, improving the food and nutritional security of more than two billion people, and saving hundreds of millions of hectares of natural tropical ecosystems.”
Soil Carbon Sequestration in the Massachusetts Regulatory Framework
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues to be a leader in preparing for and responding to the
effects of climate change. This presentation will provide a preview of coming questions and information
that project proponents should begin to consider more deeply, particularly with regard to soil carbon
sequestration. In relation to soils considerations, recent experience with MEPA requests for information
pertaining to Greenhouse Gas analyses will be overviewed, along with the decarbonization
considerations in the new Resilient MA Action Team Statewide Climate Resilience Design Standards
Tool now required by MEPA, as well as other intersecting considerations such as wetlands
impacts/mitigation and MEPA agricultural land alteration thresholds. The presentation is intended to end
with time for open discussion regarding the role that soil scientists and other experts should play in the
Commonwealth’s development of updated Greenhouse Gas analyses that more fully consider our soil’s
role in carbon sequestration.
The impact of runelling as a hydrologic restoration strategy on salt marsh carbon decomposition
High rates of primary productivity and slow rates of decomposition lead to significant blue carbon stores
in salt marsh peat soils. However, marshes are experiencing vegetation dieback and drowning due to
interactions of sea level rise and anthropogenic disturbance. Runelling, a proposed mitigation strategy, is
designed to connect standing water on the marsh to nearby open water, thereby restoring marsh
hydrologic patterns and decreasing the area of standing water that can lead to vegetation dieback.
Currently, the impacts of this adaptation strategy on carbon decomposition are unknown. We
hypothesized that altering marsh hydrodynamics would impact edaphic drivers of decomposition by
decreasing water content, increasing redox potential, and decreasing temperature. This in turn would
increase decomposition in dieback areas, only in the short term until revegetation. In year one, before
digging runnels, we conducted a decomposition experiment using the Teabag Index in Buzzard’s Bay,
Massachusetts. Areas of dieback and standing water had higher moisture content and lower redox
conditions, and as a result, rates of decomposition were lower in these areas compared to drier,
vegetated zones, though not significant. After the year one growing season, we dug runnels at treatment
creeks. We replicated the Teabag Index study, and in addition, buried aboveground Spartina alterniflora
in litterbags to measure long-term decomposition rates of biomass. We will describe how runnels alter
marsh hydrology and edaphic conditions and present preliminary decomposition results from the first
growing season after runnel creation.
Making it happen: Three case studies for increasing soil carbon storage and fighting climate change
The Earth’s soil contains about twice as much carbon as is contained in the atmosphere and biosphere together. How we conserve and manage soils has a b ig impact on carbon emissions and withdrawals from the atmosphere. Wetland soils are particularly significant, as wetlands store approximately 30% of the world’s soil carbon, despite occupying only 5 – 8% of the earth ‘s land surface. Most of the carbon stored in wetlands is stored in the soil. This presentation will discuss three projects where soil conservation, restoration, and management for soil health were central elements. In one case study, a specific approach to conserving and translocating hydric soils from a wetland impact area to a wetland replication area will be discussed. In another case study, state climate resilience funding was used to implement a regional assessment and planning project that identified and prioritized Nature-based solutions focused on conserving and restoring wetlands, floodplains, forests, and other ecosystems that harbor significant soil and biomass carbon.
Improving soil health for urban agriculture by managing soil carbon
An abundance of vacant land exists in the formerly industrial cities of the U.S. Many communities have begun utilizing this land for functional greenspace and urban agriculture (UA) to improve the overall quality of life. This presentation will provide a summary of two projects that measured changes in soil carbon and health from management for UA. The first project focused on an experimental site located in vacant urban lots in Youngstown, OH where houses were recently demolished and removed and the soil was left in a degraded state. The experiment measured changes in soil properties and vegetable crop yields from applying organic amendments produced from urban green wastes. The second project was a field evaluation of soil health at nine urban market gardens in Ohio. Soil physical, chemical, and biological properties were measured and soil health was compared by calculating a soil quality index. These sites demonstrated h igh levels of both soil carbon and overall soil health. Observations from both projects indicate that management for UA can result in high quality soils. This presentation will a lso provide a short introduction to the NRCS Soil Health Division and our primary programs.
Ag Carbon Credits
Ag carbon cred its may provide a modest income stream to ag producers. The principal buyers are corporations who want to buy cheaper ag carbon credits instead of actually reducing corporate greenhouse gas emissions. But the market is an emerging one and f inding the r ight carbon program is challenging. Pending federal legislation would provide significant carbon market clarity but prospects for enactment are 50-50. If the US significantly regulated US greenhouse gas emissions, carbon cred it prices would likely increase, including prices for ag carbon credits. Forestry provides most of the US land-based carbon sequestration, which ag carbon credits are based on. Current US cropland carbon sequestration equals about 0.3% of current emissions, while grasslands equals about 0.2%.
Impact of historic hydrologic manipulation and recent restoration on coastal wetland soil carbon
Over the past century, -50% of U.S. salt marshes have been lost to inf illing, impoundment, draining, or other land-use modification, with an estimated 0.48 million hectares of restricted and impounded wetlands and 0.24 mi llion hectares of drained former wetlands. Such modifications of t idal hydrology have negative impacts on coastal wetland carbon storage. Draining wetlands lowers the water level, exposing buried organic material to oxygen, resulting in loss of both stored carbon and associated e levation of the marsh. Additionally, impoundment commonly results in conversion of salt marsh habitat to another ecosystem that is disconnected from the natural feedbacks between sea-level rise and p latform elevation, leaving coastal wetlands with a reduced capacity to respond to future changes. Carbon storage is likewise negatively impacted when hydrology is altered. Here I will present carbon storage rates across the diverse ecosystems currently found in the impounded and drained former salt marshes of the Herring River estuary (Cape Cod Nat ional Seashore, MA, USA) as well as carbon sto rage data from Cape Cod marshes that have been hydrologically restored. Since diking over a century ago, freshwater ecosystems, including Phragmites Australis, Typha sps., and forest and shrub areas replaced former salt marsh habitat. Each of these ecosystems has unique carbon burial rates and thus projected elevation trajectories. Ultimately, drained and impounded former marshes in the Herring River system do not store carbon at rates (70-180 g C/m2/y) that match adjacent healthy salt marshes responding to sea-level rise (160-250 g C/m2/y) . Wetland systems, such as the Herring River, that continue to have altered hydrology are sites of reduced carbon storage compared to natura l analogues.
Advancing Farmer Adoption of Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is key to improving the resiliency of New England’s farmland, protecting our environment, feeding our region – and combatting climate change. New England’s farmers are tasked with sustaining our local food system and supporting the agricultural economy, while facing increased expectations to meet local and market-based demands for sustainably produced food. Smaller and family farms f ind profitabi lity a continuous struggle and the adoption of regenerative practices can feel too burdensome or financially risky for farmers to transition from current practices. While there are pathways to overcoming these barriers and transition to regenerative agriculture, the responsibility cannot be shouldered by the farmer alone. American Farmland Trust has created regional programming that assists farmers (both technically and financially), using public and private funding, to provide the support necessary for farmers to move past the barriers to adopting regenerative agriculture practices. This presentation will share highlights and lessons learned from AFT’s work on advancing regenerative agriculture in New England.