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Achieving Soil Carbon Sequestration in the United States: A Challenge to the Policy Makers

Lal, R.1; Follett, R. F.2; Kimble, J. M.3

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Abstract

Carbon (C) sequestration in soil implies enhancing the concentrations/pools of soil organic matter and secondary carbonates. It is achieved through adoption of recommended management practices (RMPs) on soils of agricultural, grazing, and forestry ecosystems, and conversion of degraded soils and drastically disturbed lands to restorative land use. Of the 916 million hectares (Mha) comprising the total land area in the continental United States and Alaska, 157 Mha (17.1%) are under cropland, 336 Mha (36.7%) under grazing land, 236 Mha (25.8%) under forest, 14 Mha (1.5%) under Conservation Reserve Programs (CRP), and 20 Mha (2.2%) are under urban land use. Land areas affected by different soil degradative processes include 52 Mha affected by water erosion, 48 Mha by wind erosion, 0.2 Mha by secondary salinization, and more than 4 Mha affected by mining. Adoption of RMPs can lead to sequestration of soil organic carbon (SOC) at an annual rate of 45 to 98 Tg (teragram = 1 × 1012 g = 1 million metric tons or MMT) in cropland, 13 to 70 Tg in grazing land, and 25 to 102 Tg in forestlands. In addition, there is an annual soil C sequestration potential of 21 to 77 Tg by land conversion, 25 to 60 Tg by land restoration, and 15 to 25 Tg by management of other land uses. Thus, the total potential of C sequestration in soils of the United States is 144 to 432 Tg/y or an average of 288 Tg C/y. With the implementation of suitable policy initiatives, this potential is realizable for up to 30 years or when the soil C sink capacity is filled. In comparison, emission by agricultural activities is estimated at 43 Tg C/y, and the current rate of SOC sequestration is reported as 17 Tg C/y. The challenge the policy makers face is to be able to develop and implement policies that are conducive to realization of this potential.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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