How Much Carbon can Soils Store?

How much carbon are we able to sequester in soil? Are we able to realise this maximum potential and through whet pathways? This blog explores the maximum potential for soil carbon sequestration and showcases the potential pathways for soil carbon increase in the Netherlands.

A map of carbon saturation potential for The Netherlands

Figure 1 Maximal potential increase in soil organic carbon in the Netherlands. Courtesy of Ros et al., in prep

What is soil carbon saturation and what does it depend on?

The maximum amount of carbon a soil can attain is referred to as the soil carbon saturation level. The level of carbon in a soil cannot increase endlessly because the mechanisms through which soil organic carbon is stabilized are limited. Soil organic carbon content is mainly dependant on the soil mineralogy (content of sand, silt, and clay), the input of organic carbon (e.g. from vegetation and fertilisers) and the soil environment (e.g. oxygenation, water content).

How to positively impact soil organic carbon stocks

There are a myriad ways to increase soil carbon stocks, which vary in degrees of technical complexity and cost. For this blog we explore the potential key pathways that can be taken and what their impacts can be. Potential land management changes that can positively impact soil carbon stocks are changes in land use (e.g. crop rotation), soil amendments (e.g. adding nutrients) and the management of the optimal groundwater level. Our case study in the Netherlands (Ros et al., in prep) indicates that major gains in organic stock can be attained by optimizing the land use (grasslands), optimizing the soil amendments and adjustments in the groundwater level.

View on the farm and care for carbon

Insights into the carbon saturation potential are optimally tailored to the farm level – which is where decisions are made. When you increase the carbon stocks on your land, this can be leveraged to apply for carbon offsetting credits in the voluntary carbon market. If you are interested in attaining those, you can combine adjusted land use with measurements in the field and a model for soil organic matter stocks.

The increase of soil organic carbon in soils is limited to the soil carbon saturation level. Our researchers can delineate the optimal pathway to increase soil carbon on a farm level. Interested to learn how to increase your soil organic carbon stock? Get in touch!

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SoilCASTOR enables to measure accurately soil carbon stock at farm level and is developed by NMI, AgroCares and Wageningen University.


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