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November 2009 Archive: Soil News

These news stories, which concern soil and soil-related topics, have been gathered from various sources on the Internet.  The full articles are located off of this site. Click on the title to see the full article. I will keep links on this page for about a month. View the Archive for a list of older articles.

As the World Waits on the U.S., a Sense of Déjà Vu in Denmark? (Yale Environment 360, 30 Nov 09)

With President Obama and other world leaders announcing that there would be no treaty at the end of the Copenhagen climate talks, the outlook is beginning to feel a lot like Kyoto. Current NASA research indicates that carbon dioxide concentrations will need to be lowered to less than 350 ppm, not the generally accepted 450 ppm. While 92 percent of the poorest nations have signed on to that target, it is beyond anything the US, Chinese, or the other big players have considered. Which leads to the question, how tough will the developing countries be and how much money will be needed?

Environment drives annual Christmas tree debate (Green Bay Press-Gazette, 30 Nov 09)

This article discusses the pros and cons of the environmental effects of real and artificial Christmas trees from the perspective of an owner of an artificial tree company, a Christmas tree farmer, and others. The economic effects are also discussed.

Climate change: How global warming is having an impact (Space Daily, 29 Nov 09)

In the past, scientists have been cautious about advising that man-made carbon gases could lead to global climate change. However, scientists are increasingly convinced that we are seeing the first indicators of climate change: rising seas, shrinking glaciers, shifting seasons, ocean acidification, Arctic ice loss, Antarctic warming, permafrost retreat, changing precipitation, and storms.

Get your cows out of the creek (The Tennessean, 28 Nov 09)

Tennessee farmers are being offered grants to protect creeks in watersheds that have experienced a decline in diversity and density of aquatic life. Farmers can get up to 90 percent of the cost of projects such as fencing livestock out of streams, installing alternative livestock watering systems, planting native grasses and stabilizing streambanks.

3,000 scientists tell federal government to ‘act now’ on climate change (Canada.com, 27 Nov 09)

Leaders of Canadian organizations representing more than 3000 scientists are calling for urgent action on climate change by the Canadian government. The letter to the Harper government is signed by the presidents of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the Canadian Geophysical Union, the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Canadian Society of Soil Science, and the Canadian Society of Zoologists.

New Method To Measure Snow And Soil Moisture With GPS (MundoGEO, 27 Nov 09)

A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has found a way to measure snow depth as well as soil and vegetation moisture using traditional GPS satellite signals. The research team correlated changes in multipath signals to snow depth. The technique is expected to benefit meteorologists, water resource managers, climate modelers, and farmers.

It’s not just dirt! (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, 26 Nov 09)

Interactive soil e-lessons were developed in a collaborative project by teachers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Oregon State University – Cascades, Colorado State University-Fort Collins, Trinity College, and University of Minnesota. The online lessons use active learning strategies, interactive Flash animations, experiential learning activities, transfer problems, embedded questions, images, and text as elements in the lessons. The lessons are available to students and the public.

Scientists announce proof of mega-droughts (San Luis Obispo Tribune, 25 Nov 09)

Scientists from the University of California Davis have proof that mega-droughts in California lasting decades or centuries are connected to rapid warming, especially in the Arctic. The proof was announced after analyzing trace minerals in formations in caves along the Sierra Nevada.

Will compost save the planet? (San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Nov 09)

San Francisco’s compost collection program has composted more than 620,000 tons of material since 1996. Most of it is food scraps that would normally be dumped into a landfill. Using a protocol drawn up by the Climate Action Reserve, Recology estimates that they avoided releasing 137,000 tons of methane and returned 18,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the soil.

Sustainable Corn Production Supports Advanced Biofuel Feedstocks (USDA Agricultural Research Service News, 24 Nov 09)

Researchers have been looking for economical methods for using corn stover (the leftover leaves, husks, cobs, and stalks of the corn plant) as a source of biomass for cellulosic ethanol production. However, Agricultural Research Service scientists have found that it might be more economical, energy efficient, and sustainable to use corn stover to generate bio-oil and to make biochar to enrich soils.

Can Ecological Agriculture Feed Nine Billion People? (Monthly Review, 23 Nov 09)

In spite of technological advances, hundreds of millions of people are hungry and malnourished while hundreds of millions of people suffer from obesity and eating the wrong kinds of food. At the same time, agricultural systems are often responsible for degrading the environment. This essay discusses the potential for sustainable agriculture to feed people in developing countries and meet the needs of population growth.

Soil monitoring programme suggests climate change initiative (International Environmental Technology, 20 Nov 09)

A research program at Edinburgh University has found that biochar in soil can be a sustainable option for storing carbon in soil. Biochar is a form of charcoal produced by heating biomass in a low-oxygen environment, while also producing bioenergy. Researchers also believe that biochar could enhance soil quality because of its unique porous structure.

A climate threat, rising from the soil (Washington Post, 19 Nov 09)

Degraded peatlands in Indonesia unleash vast amounts of carbon. Peat takes thousands of years to form from decomposed trees, grass, and scrub. Under normal conditions, it contains vast quantities of carbon dioxide that stays locked in the ground. However in Indonesia swamps are being drained and the trees are being cut down causing the peat to dry and disintegrate, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Studying Fertilizers to Cut Greenhouse Gases (USDA Agricultural Research Service, 17 Nov 09)

Researchers at the Soil Plant Nutrient Research Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado have found that using alternative types of fertilizers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When researchers compared conventional urea nitrogen fertilizer with two specially formulated fertilizers that controlled the release of urea, they found that the specially formulated fertilizers reduced nitrous oxide emissions substantially.

Bacterial ‘Ropes’ Tie Down Shifting Southwest (Science Daily, 17 Nov 09)

Researchers at Arizona State University have discovered several species of soil-dwelling blue-green algae that build “ropes” to “lasso” desert soil substrates. These organisms typically exist as multicellular strands or threads. It’s their initial stabilization of the soil that makes the way for other microbes to colonize the soil.

Protecting soils to help combat climate change (Reuters AlertNet, 17 Nov 09)

A Zambian conservation initiative uses minimum tillage, nitrogen fixing acacia trees, and crop residue to protect the soil, improve fertility, and hold carbon. This has resulted in tripled maize yields in some parts of the country.

KYRGYZSTAN: Fewer glaciers = more deserts (IRIN News, 16 Nov 09)

Increasing temperatures over the next few decades would cause rapidly melting glaciers in the mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan that could lead to soil erosion, land degradation, and desertification. Agricultural zoning is being considered to ensure food security and efficient use of water.

What’s killing the bats? (The Boston Globe, 15 Nov 09)

In the past three years, more than 1 million bats in North America have died from a widespread disease that’s been dubbed “white-nose syndrome”. The disease has spread rapidly from its epicenter near Albany, New York to the South Atlantic states. Researchers suspect that the disease is caused by a recently identified cold-thriving soil fungus named Geomyces destructans.

Farmers Try Smart Tech To Save Water (Information Week, 14 Nov 09)

Wireless sensors and GPS-guided irrigation are helping early adopters cut use. But there are barriers to widespread use. Farmers are wirelessly relaying data from soil moisture probes to collection centers. This allows them to allocate water more precisely. Some farmers are also using GPS systems on their center pivot irrigation systems to allocate water. The problem is that in some areas water just isn’t expensive enough to justify the expense of new technology. The politics of water shortages also make it difficult for justify the investment when they don’t know how much water they’ll get.

EPA Cracking Down on Urban and Agricultural Runoff Blamed for Dead Zones (Solve Climate, 13 Nov 09)

Runoff from farms and urban and suburban communities carries with it nutrients that eventually work their way into coastal ecosystems. The nutrients lead to algae blooms that deplete oxygen in the water, leading to dead zones in the oceans. One of the largest dead zones is along the Louisiana Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Chesapeake has an annual summer dead zone that results in multiple fish kills each year. Plans are underway to take action in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

Group Urges Protection of Northern Forests (New York Times, 12 Nov 09)

A coalition of conservation groups is urging governments in the climate negotiations next month to protect northern boreal forests and peatlands in Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. A report produced by the coalition says that undisturbed northern boreal forests account for 60 percent of the world’s forest-based carbon sinks. Much of this carbon is stored in underground roots and soil systems that will accumulate for thousands of years. Deforestation and other land-use disturbances accounted for a fifth of the anthropogenic carbon emissions during the 1990s.

Main Ingredients in Household Dust Come From Outdoors (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12 Nov 09)

More than 60 percent of the dust in homes comes from tracked-in soil and airborne particles from outdoors. This dust from outdoors can contain potentially harmful substances such as arsenic and lead.

Cave Study Links Climate Change To California Droughts (Science Daily, 11 Nov 09)

An analysis of stalagmites from Moaning Cavern in central Sierra Nevada has found a correlation between the thawing of ice caps in the Arctic with centuries-long droughts in California. The stalagmites are like tree rings in that they build up over centuries as water drips from the cave roof, picking up and depositing trace chemicals. Researchers are uncertain about the connection between Arctic temperatures and California precipitation.

Norman Borlaug, 1914-2009: Pioneer of the Green Revolution (Voice of America, 10 Nov 09)

This is a transcript of a radio broadcast discussing Norman Borlaug, a plant scientist who won the Nobel Peach Prize for his efforts to increase food production around the world. Borlaug is considered the Father of the Green Revolution. He is credited with saving billions of lives with his fight against hunger through crop breeding programs and the use of fertilizer and pesticides. However, he has been criticized by environmental activists for his emphasis on fertilizers and pesticides.

EPA Adds 3 Sites to Superfund’s National Priorities List (Environmental Protection Online, 10 Nov 09)

The US Environmental Protection Agency is adding three new hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. The three sites are Raritan Bay Slag in Old Bridge Township/Sayreville, N.J.; U.S. Magnesium in Tooele County, Utah; and Peck Iron and Metal in Portsmouth, Va. Check the article for details on contaminants and risk assessments at these sites.

Kansas teens work on ‘artificial tree towers’ to help environment (Kansas City Star, 9 Nov 09)

Two high school juniors attending the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and science are planning to build artificial tree towers. These metal “trees” use resin to capture carbon dioxide as bicarbonate in a dry form. The resin can be flushed with water to dump the carbon dioxide.

Surface Permafrost Likely to Vanish in Alaska (U.S. News & World Report, 7 Nov 09)

Computer predict a 4 to 6 degree rise in air temperature in Alaska by the year 2100, causing the surface permafrost in Alaska to slowly vanish. Not only does thawing permafrost release gases that are believed to contribute to global warming but their instability can cause damage to buildings and other infrastructure.

Climate Change, Nitrogen Loss Threaten Plant Life in Arid Desert Soils (National Science Foundation, 7 Nov 09)>

There are two constraints to biological activity in arid ecosystems such as the Mojave Desert. The first, of course, is water and the second nitrogen. Higher temperatures in arid regions cause nitrogen to escape as a gas, reducing the fertility of the soil and its ability to support plant life.

Agriculture Both Climate Change Victim and Contributor (Voice of America News, 6 Nov 09)

While agriculture has been hurt by climate change in some areas, in general agriculture contributes 14 percent of global greenhouse gases. The challenge in agriculture is to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining food production.

Africa takes a stand on climate talks (The Independent, 5 Nov 09)

African countries boycotted Tuesday’s climate change talks in Barcelona to protest the failure of many developed countries to agree to deep emission cuts by 2020. African countries feel that these biggest polluters are responsible for most of the climate change but that Africa is often the hardest hit. In contrast Africa emits only 3.6% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Rodale Publishes Vice President Al Gore’s New Book OUR CHOICE: A Plan To Solve the Climate Crisis on Tuesday, November 3 (Reuters, 4 Nov 09)

Rodale Books has published former Vice President Al Gore’s new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. In his newest book, Al Gore presents solutions that he feels can and should be implemented immediately. He discusses the issues and science behind alternative energy sources and the contributions to climate change from deforestation, soil erosion and degradation, and population issues.

Searching for Ways to Reduce Agriculture’s Climate Change Footprint (USDA ARS, 3 Nov 09)

Jane Johnson, a soil scientist at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, is looking for practical ways to keep carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Her studies have found that greenhouse gas emissions were the same under two-year and four-year rotation systems and that nitrogen fertilizer had less impact than anticipated. This research is part of a five-year project known as GRACEnet, Greenhouse gas Reduction through Agricultural Carbon Enhancement network. Researchers in the GRACEnet project are examining strategies to reduce agriculture’s climate change footprint.

Lesson of the Ancient Nazcas: Deforestation Can Kill a Civilization (Discover Magazine, 3 Nov 09)

The Ica Valley, Peru is barren today but was once a fertile landscape supporting the ancient Nazca people. An important key to that fertility was the huarango tree that provided wood, seed pods for food, and deep roots that stabilized the topsoil. A new study has found that as the Nazca people cleared forests for agricultural fields, the topsoil was no longer stabilized and several major El Niños led to floods that deluged the landscape.

Farmers fight climate bill, but warming spells trouble for them (Miami Herald, 2 Nov 09)

Farmers are writing their state senators urging them to vote against the climate and energy bill. The fear is that limiting the emissions from coal, oil and natural gas would increase the cost of necessities like fuel, electricity and fertilizer. However, farmers could have worse problems if rising emissions cause more climate change in the future. The article discusses these effects as well as viewpoints from a variety of sources.

Toxic waste trickles toward New Mexico’s water sources (Los Angeles Times, 1 Nov 09)

Radioactive debris from mountain burial sites for Los Alamos National Laboratory has been found in the canyons than drain into the Rio Grande. Currently the contaminant levels in the Rio Grande are not high enough to trigger health concerns, but the runoff from the canyons that runs into the Rio Grande have unsafe levels of contaminants. Air monitors have also found radioactive dust which settles on the ground after a rain and then gets taken up by edible plants.

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