Value of soil organic carbon in agricultural lands

Michelle Wander, Todd Nissen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Immediate efforts to increase soil carbon sequestration and minimize terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions are needed to mitigate global warming. Whether or not terrestrial stocks become sinks or net sources of C over the next century will depend upon how fast and at what level we are able to stabilize carbon dioxide levels. The cost of soil C sequestration is at present relatively low compared to other C emission reduction technologies making soil C sinks an important short-term solution to be used while competing technologies are developed. However, efforts to use C sequestration in soils as CO 2 emissions offsets have faced numerous challenges. Difficulties associated with C stock validation (direct measurement) and the impermanence and saturability of soil C reservoirs raise concerns over whether soil C reservoirs are good long-term investments. Pragmatism has led to the development of indirect inventorying of the C reserves held at national and regional scales. Such indirect accounting systems will advance as validation methods are refined and as process models improve their ability to accurately predict how existing soil condition and specific land management practices will influence soil C storage and NO 2 and CH 4 emissions. Improved documentation of the value of environmental services and sustained productive potential derived from optimized land use and associated increases in soil quality will also add to the estimated value of soil C sinks. Policies must evolve simultaneously with the theoretical and technical tools needed to promote optimization of land use practices to mitigate climate change now and to minimize future contributions of soil C to atmospheric CO 2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-431
Number of pages15
JournalMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology


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