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Increasing soil organic carbon to mitigate greenhouse gases and increase climate resiliency for California

November 1, 2018

Rising air temperatures are projected to continue to drive up urban, agricultural, and rangeland water use, straining both surface and groundwater resources. Scientific studies have shown that managing farms, ranches, and public lands to increase soil carbon can increase soil waterholding capacity and increase hydrologic benefits such as increased baseflows and aquifer recharge, reduced flooding and erosion, and reduced climate-related water deficits. Coincident improvements in forage and crop yields are also indicated, while simultaneously sequestering carbon, reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases and mitigating climate change. This study was developed to consider the multiple benefits of increasing the organic matter content of soils across California’s working lands.

Study results indicate that a one-time ¼” application of compost to rangelands can lead to carbon sequestration rates in soils that are maximized after approximately 15 years, and more than offset greenhouse gas emissions stimulated by the compost addition for at least five decades longer. Modeled increases in total soil organic matter of 3% enhanced hydrologic benefits across 97% of working lands, and reduced climate change impacts. Economic valuation indicated all benefits increasing over time, demonstrating a large potential for the California carbon market to support incentives in regionalizing the impacts in the coming decades. Socioeconomic and related land use pressures pose barriers to implementing management practices to increase soil organic matter by driving conversion of rangeland to urban or to more greenhouse-gas emission intensive agriculture. Results can be effectively used with land use change scenarios to identify where on California’s working lands hydrologic benefits of soil organic matter enhancement coincide with development risk, highlighting counties in California in which there may be resilience to climate change when strategic soil management and land conservation are combined.

Publication Year 2018
Title Increasing soil organic carbon to mitigate greenhouse gases and increase climate resiliency for California
Authors Lorraine E. Flint, Alan L. Flint, Michelle A. Stern, Allegra Mayer, Whendee L. Silver, Clyde Casey, Fabiano Franco, Kristin B. Byrd, Benjamin M. Sleeter, P. Alvarez, J. Creque, T. Estrada, D. Cameron
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype State or Local Government Series
Series Number CCCA4-CNRA-2018-006
Index ID 70199846
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center