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Rich Earth, Clear Water: Carbon Sinks, Global Cooling, and the Water Cycle: NOFA/Mass and Bionutrient Food Association Host Walter Jehne - May 12

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 May Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell, Education Events Organizer

As members of NOFA/Mass and the Bionutrient Food Association know, soil ecosystems (and their plant communities) are key to healthier crops – and also have a role to play in climate change mitigation. But what is the relationship of the water cycle to soil ecosystems?

According to Walter Jehne – renowned Australian soil microbiologist and UN climate scientist – soil carbon drawdown and the cycling of water through a landscape are interconnected phenomena. In fact, the increased water cycling of healthy, carbon-rich ecosystems may be the key to cooling the planet.

This fascinating relationship – between the health of soil/plant ecosystems and the health of water cycles – is the subject of his full-day intensive in Amherst on May 12.

Jehne will explain the interrelated biological life-support systems of carbon and water, and provide inspiration and practical guidance toward the preservation and restoration of what he calls the ‘soil carbon sponge’.

The ‘soil carbon sponge’ is the water-absorbing, carbon rich, living component that turns mere ‘dirt’ into ‘soil.’ It is that living sponge – and the plants it supports – which determines the movement of water on Earth.

Soil organic matter determines a soil’s capacity to absorb water (each percent of soil organic matter = 6/10th of an inch of rainfall absorbed per precipitation event). Plants take up water directly from the soil but also receive water from fungal associates in the soil. Then, it is used by the plant, or released as evaporation.

As author Judith Schwartz writes: “Water doesn’t move and transfigure on its own; much of its movement is determined by biology, particularly by plants… Brazilian scientist Anotnio Donato Nobre says that collectively, the trees of the Amazon rainforest create a ‘vertical river’ even greater than the Amazon river itself. This is moisture in motion, embodying and conveying heat.”

The cooling capacity of trees, like so many natural processes, is far more efficient than human technology. According to David Ellison et al. in the paper Trees, Forests and Water: Cool insights for a Hot World trees act as solar-powered, water-based air conditioning units. “Individual trees can transpire hundreds of liters of water per day. This represents a cooling power equivalent to 70 kWh for every 100 L of water transpired ([cooling power equivalent to] two average household central air-conditioning units per day).”

Each tree: cooling its microclimate with the power of two central AC units. Anyone who has left a city or grocery store parking lot on a summer day to go for a walk in the woods will likely not be surprised.

The evaporation which cools the forest becomes clouds in the atmosphere and rainfall above another landscape elsewhere, redistributing this precious resource, nourishing soil life and plant communities, and becoming more cooling, more rainfall, and the cycle continues.

Yet those clouds began in the soil. “We only have one process by which we can restore these soils and bio-systems and thus their… ability to safely cool the climate,” wrote Jehne in Regenerate Earth. “The process is to reverse the ratio of carbon oxidation to bio-sequestration, in order to regenerate the resilience and hydrology of the soil carbon sponge. We can do this via our management of our soils and landscapes.”

On his current US tour, Jenhe will share his deep knowledge of these cycles at major academic and government institutions across the nation. NOFA/Mass and the Bionutrient Food Association are excited to host him in the Pioneer Valley, and we anticipate that his visit with us will bring together farmers, land managers, and students of natural resource conservation, environmental conservation, and sustainable farming.

We hope that you will join us on May 12 at 10:30am at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, MA for a day of learning, connecting, and sharing. Learn more and register for Understanding The Water Cycle for Soil, Climate & Life.



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