December 2009 Archive: Soil News

These news stories, which concern soil and soil-related topics, have been gathered from various sources on the Internet.  I try to pick one article each day to highlight. Sometimes I will select two articles. Sometimes it will be a slow news day and I won’t find any to highlight.  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.

Dust: Tiny particles with a big impact (Kansas City Star, 31 Dec 09)

Enormous amounts of dust mad up of fine grains of soil, sand, smoke, soot, sea salt, and other particles soars thousands of miles over continents and oceans. As forests are cleared and temperatures increase the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere is expected to increase. The problem is that the dust could be a major environmental driver but it is also a source of uncertainty in climate models.

The Planet Versus Monsanto (Forbes, 31 Dec 09)

Monsanto is an economic success. Its genetically engineered seeds are preferred by farmers over those produced by competing companies. Public praise has been harder to come by. First Monsanto came under criticism over its work on genetically modified corn and soybeans. Over time that criticism has mellowed. However, now there is a new round of criticism that says Monsanto has a monopoly in some seed markets.

Life in 2030: Scanning the aisles for latest on state of planet (New Zealand Herald, 30 Dec 09)

By 2030 food demand is expected to increase by 50 percent and it is expected to double by 2050. Wealthy food shoppers will want to know their food’s entire environmental footprint before they purchase it. With the increase in food demand, nutrients will be scarce and plants will be bred to use as little water as possible. A job as a soil scientist will be viewed as glamorous. These are some of the views of Morgan Williams, former New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Methane Uptake by Soils of a Temperate Deciduous Forest (CO2 Science, 29 Dec 09)

This is a summary of a research paper in the journal Soil Biology and Biochemistry. In a two-year study in a forest in Germany, researchers measured net fluxes of methane under different species of trees. They found that most of the variation in methane uptake were explained by changes in soil moisture in the upper five centimeters of soil. As soil moisture decreased, methane uptake increased. Global warming should decrease soil moisture and increase methane uptake, balancing some of the increases in CO2-induced global warming.

Will You Benefit From Climate Change Legislation? (Cattle Network, 28 Dec 09)

Once Congress reconvenes and reconciles the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, they will probably return to the climate change legislation. While farmers may end up paying more for fuel, energy, and fertilizer inputs, they may be able to use cap and trade legislation to add income by offsetting greenhouse gases. Because of agriculture’s use of fuel and fertilizer, it is responsible for 7 percent of greenhouse gases. Farmers who benefit from cap and trade legislation will be those who use tillage practices that retain carbon in the soil, such as no-till farming.

Investors see farms as way to grow Detroit (Los Angeles Times, 27 Dec 09)

While trees and wild grasses take over abandoned homes and factories in Detroit, investors are buying up these abandoned sections with plants to transform them into commercial farming operations. Urban agriculture has grown nationwide in recent years in cities such as Berkeley, California and Flint, Michigan. The difference in Detroit is the size of the operation.

Brazil Aims to Prevent Land Grabs in Amazon (New York Times, 27 Dec 09)

The Brazilian government is formally establishing ownership of tens of millions of acres across the Amazon in order to track who is responsible for clearing forests and who is held accountable when it is done illegally. Over the previous decades this has been a lawless area, with land seizures often occurring at gunpoint. Brazilian laws developed in the 1980s were some of the most protective of forests but there weren’t enough authorities to enforce them. It is hoped that these new efforts will prevent deforestation and its impact on climate change as well as bringing some order to the area.

Small gardening tips can make a big difference for the environment (Florida Times-Union, 26 Dec 09)

This article gives nine gardening tips to make your garden and the environment healthier. The advice is geared toward the Florida climate but these general suggestions will still apply to most other locations. The article expands on each of the suggestions below. The nine suggestions are: Match the right plant to the right place. Water your plants efficiently and use a rain barrel. Fertilize only as needed. Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch. Add plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife. Control pests responsibly. Recycle grass clippings and plant debris. Reduce storm water runoff. Protect the waterfront with plant buffers and sweep up fertilizer that lands on hard surfaces.

Soil Studies Reveal Rise in Antibiotic Resistance (Science Daily, 24 Dec 09)

Bacterial DNA extracted from soil samples collected between 1940 and 2008 indicate that antibiotic resistance in the natural environment is rising. This is important since it increases the risk of a resistant gene in a harmless bacteria being passed to a disease-causing pathogen.

Left in the Cold at Copenhagen, Farmers Look to Future (Voice of America, 24 Dec 09)

Although many farmers hoped that the negotiations in Copenhagen would address agricultural issues with climate change, agriculture wasn’t mentioned in the final accord signed by the United States, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. However deforestation did receive a pledge for financial backing in Copenhagen. The details still need to be developed but countries can earn credit for preserving and restoring forests. How this will affect crop production is also uncertain.

Soil Studies Reveal Rise in Antibiotic Resistance (Science Daily, 24 Dec 09)

Bacterial DNA extracted from soil samples collected between 1940 and 2008 indicate that antibiotic resistance in the natural environment is rising. This is important since it increases the risk of a resistant gene in a harmless bacteria being passed to a disease-causing pathogen.

Left in the Cold at Copenhagen, Farmers Look to Future (Voice of America, 24 Dec 09)

Although many farmers hoped that the negotiations in Copenhagen would address agricultural issues with climate change, agriculture wasn’t mentioned in the final accord signed by the United States, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. However deforestation did receive a pledge for financial backing in Copenhagen. The details still need to be developed but countries can earn credit for preserving and restoring forests. How this will affect crop production is also uncertain.

USDA: U.S. ecosystems are being impacted by climate change (AgWeb.com, 23 Dec 09)

A report released by the US Department of Agriculture at the Copenhagen conference states that US ecosystems are already changing due to climate change. Climate change is affecting agriculture, water resources, and biodiversity and the effects are expected to increase. These changes will produce challenges for farmers, ranchers, others who make a living off of the land.

4 Quick Tips for an ‘Environment-Friendly’ Christmas (Opposing Views, 22 Dec 09)

This article describes four ways you can reduce your waste this Christmas. You can recycle your Christmas tree. Use reusable gift bags or make your own wrapping paper from recycled paper. You can repair broken ornaments or donate unwanted ornaments to a thrift store. Finally any excess or unwanted food can be composted. They don’t mention this in the article but typically you don’t compost meat. Links are given for more information on each tip.

EPA, USDA push farmers to use coal waste on fields (Associated Press, 21 Dec 09)

EPA and the US Department of Agriculture are encouraging farmers to use waste from coal-fired power plants as a fertilizer and soil treatment. The waste is produced when power plant scrubbers remove sulfur dioxide from the plant emissions. This produces a synthetic form of gypsum, but that gypsum also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals. While the EPA says the amounts of the toxic metals are too small to cause problems, others are not so sure.

The Dry Garden: New ‘Tree Rings’ book puts climate change in terms young readers can understand ( Los Angeles Times, 19 Dec 09)

This is a review of the book The Tree Rings’ Tale: Understanding Our Changing Climate (Worlds of Wonder) by John Fleck. The book is aimed at educating young teens about climate change, with an emphasis on the western United States. There is also a list of other science activities and resources for children at the end of the article.

Soil Microorganisms? Role Cited as a Missing Factor in Climate Change Equation (PhysOrg.com, 18 Dec 09)

Research published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition incorporates the impact of the enzyme carbonic anhydrase on the chemical form of carbon dioxide released from soil. Dr. Behzad Mortazavi from the University of Alabama states that the paper presents measurements from all of the major regions of the world. The effect of this enzyme on carbon dioxide released from the soil was experimentally determined. While the role of this enzyme in vegetation has been previously incorporated into computer models, the authors state that this is the first time a computer model has included its role in soils.

Key issues of deforestation, farm emissions have seen progress at climate talks (Dallas Morning News, 17 Dec 09)

Article covers progress on deforestation and farm emissions at the Copenhagen climate talks. The United States and five other countries pledged to spend $3.5 billion over the next three years to slow the destruction of forests. The United States and 20 other countries will join in a research alliance to understand and prevent greenhouse gas emissions from farms.

Precision Agriculture Starts At Soil Level (Precision Pays, 17 Dec 09)

Precision agriculture starts with regular soil tests as the basis for variable-rate applications. The articles covers two common misconceptions about soil testing. The first misconception is that soil testing is expensive. The second misconception is that maintenance applications of Phosphorus and Potassium are good enough.

Replicating Climate Change to Forecast its Effects (USDA Agricultural Research Service, 16 Dec 09)

Agricultural Research Service scientists are replicating the effects of climate change in the year 2050 to determine the effects on wheat, soybean, and soil. Open-top chambers are used to expose wheat and soybeans to increased levels of carbon dioxide and ozone and then determine the effect on growth rate, crop yields, and soil chemistry.

Biochar: What Is It, And Why Should I Be Interested? (Cattle Network, 16 Dec 09)

Biochar is charred or partially burned biomass, similar to charcoal. Biomass is burned at low temperature with limited amounts of oxygen. Gasses are collected and used for a variety of industrial products and fuels. The carbon, or biochar, is returned to soil as a soil amendment to enhance soil productivity and to sequester carbon in the soil.

COP 15: New research to help soil carbon stack up (Stock and Land, 15 Dec 09)

A new technique for measuring carbon in soil was unveiled in Copenhagen this week that measures, monitors, and verifies soil carbon on-site. The methodology uses laser-induced optical techniques to test soil carbon and is applicable to different agricultural systems and regions.

“Underworld” Open in St. Petersburg (Russia-InfoCentre, 14 Dec 09)

A little something different from climate change news today. The Dokuchaev Central Museum of Soil Science in St. Petersburg, Russia has a new exhibition called “Underworld”. Underworld is a tunnel in the soil where visitors meet soil inhabitants under different conditions.

Scientists: Climate talks aim too low for target (Associated Press, 13 Dec 09)

Some scientists feel the cuts in greenhouse gases being offered at the Copenhagen climate talks are not enough to head off global warming. While richer nations are offering to cut greenhouse gases 8-12 percent, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends cuts of 25-40 percent. A big factor is the potential for release of methane from the Arctic’s thawing permafrost.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Small Farmers Can Cool the World (Inter Press Service, 13 Dec 09)

Industrial agriculture with its large monocultures may emit nearly half of the climate-heating greenhouse gases while small-scale farmers typically use 80 percent less energy. A study by the international organization GRAIN found that one-third of the emissions come from food processing and transport. The bulk of emissions come from land use changes such as conversions of forests and grasslands and from direct agricultural production. Restoring soil fertility could capture about 450 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 50 years.

Dispute over radioactive dirt going to Calif site (San Jose Mercury News, 12 Dec 09)

Boeing Co. and NASA have applied to haul radioactive contaminated soil from a facility near Los Angeles to a San Joaquin Valley dump. The soil comes from a facility near Los Angeles where rocket engines were tested for years and contains Cesium 137. The dispute concerns whether the San Joaquin Valley dump should be allowed to accept the contaminated soil since it is not licensed for radioactive waste disposal.

Farms, Fertilizers and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (PhysOrg.com, 11 Dec 09)

This brief article describes two USDA Agricultural Research Service research projects looking at the effect of farming on emission of the greenhouse gas, N2O. One team is looking at how different soils and fertilizers affect N2O emissions. Another researcher is looking at the effects of the type of fertilizer and fertilizer placement on N2O emissions.

Frequently Asked Questions about No Sure Fix (Union of Concerned Scientists, 10 Dec 09)

Frequently asked questions and answers about the prospects of genetic engineering for improving crops’ nitrogen use efficiency with respect to nitrogen pollution.

Lessons of the Loess (New York Times, 9 Dec 09)

China’s Loess Plateau was once the cradle of Chinese civilization with fertile soils. However, after thousands of years of farming, much of the fertility is gone. In order to change this situation, in 2005 the Chinese government along with the World Bank completed the world’s largest watershed restoration on the upper banks of the Yellow River. This restoration now supports a thriving agricultural economy. The article goes on to discuss the importance of projects such as this one in reducing climate change and how forest landscape restoration will be on the agenda at the Copenhagen meeting.

New farming practices in middle of global warming debate (Minnesota Public Radio News, 9 Dec 09)

This Minnesota Public Radio broadcast looks at the role of farming practices and global warming policies from several viewpoints. Carmen Fernholz uses tillage radishes over the winter to trap carbon in the soil. Minnesota US Representative Collin Peterson thinks ethanol is a success story in reducing greenhouse gases. However James Dontje feels ethanol may be contributing to global warming. With ethanol production boosting corn prices, farmers plowed up virgin land releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Other farmers such as Lawrence Sukalski say the proposed climate legislation will increase their costs. Research at the University of Minnesota demonstrates the uncertainty of carbon economics. Recent research has shown that no-till farming doesn’t seem to reduce the soil-based carbon escaping into the atmosphere.

To What Degree: What Science Is Telling Us About Climate Change (National Science Foundation, 8 Dec 09)

What is science telling us about climate change? Leading climate change experts discuss one of the most complex scientific puzzles ever to confront humankind.

Soil Erosion: The Silent Killer (AgWeb.com, 8 Dec 09)

Soil is a mixture of rock, organic matter, water, air, and organisms that produces food, cleans water, and sequesters carbon. However, David Pimentel from Cornell University estimates that about 30 percent of the Earth’s arable land has eroded in the last 30 years. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the best cropland has an erosion rate that is 27 times the natural rater of erosion. The primary causes of rapid soil erosion are tilling and removing crop residues after harvest. The article discusses other impacts and ways to reduce erosion.

Rainforests turned into smoldering ruins (CNN, 7 Dec09)

Rainforests in Sumatra, Indonesia are being burned at an alarming rate by multibillion dollar paper, pulp, and palm oil conglomerates. Already 85 percent of Sumatra’s rainforests have been cleared. What’s left is disappearing at the rate of 50 football fields every hour. Small villages in these areas who realize the importance of these rainforests are often caught in the middle. While Indonesia has strong laws governing deforestation, some environmental groups believe the laws aren’t enforced strongly enough.

From sci-fi tech, food for the masses (National Post, 7 Dec 09)

Dr. Nicholas Savidov at a crop diversification lab in southern Alberta, has developed a self-contained ecosystem which grows tons of fish, vegetables, and fruit for years with hardly any added water. One square meter has a higher yield than one acre of land. This is part of a research focus on using technology for more intensive agriculture that reduces the amount of land needed to produce food.

Delaware education: The new hot major? Agriculture (The News Journal, 5 Dec 09)

In the US, enrollment in Bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture had risen 21.8 percent between 2005 and 2008. Many of these students don’t have plans to become farmers. Instead they are drawn to agriculture by their interest in science and by the fact that companies in agriculture and related fields are still hiring.

Water-saving technology focus of new grant (Lawn and Landscape, 5 Dec 09)

The University of Georgia is part of a national team that received a five-year $5 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture specialty Crop Research Initiative. The goal of the project is to develop “the next generation of tools to precisely monitor plant water use, allow for better control of irrigation water applications, and increase the efficiency of water and nutrient use by ornamental growers.”

Scientists Respond to “Climategate” E-Mail Controversy (Scientific American, 4 Dec 09)

Have you heard about “Climategate”, the stolen email and computer code from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England? I’m highlighting three articles on this controversy today. This article from Scientific American discusses the charges that these materials overturn scientific evidence for global warming. There are a number of comments from various sides at the end of the article. The following two articles are from Nature.

Editorial: Climatologists under pressure (Nature, 4 Dec 09)

This editorial points out that the stolen email don’t reveal a scientific conspiracy but do reveal that scientists should be better supported and that the scientists should be extra careful to stick to their scientific values.

Battle lines drawn over e-mail leak (Nature, 4 Dec 09)

This article discusses how scientists should respond to skeptics and how to deal with the deluge of climate data requests. Included are several very brief statements from scientists.

Va. farmers fear new bay cleanup measures (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3 Dec 09)

With the US EPA preparing a new Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan for next year, many dairy farmers are afraid they won’t be able to afford any new mandates. Agriculture in Virginia contributes 43 percent of the phosphorus pollution and 28 percent of the nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Even though farmers have voluntarily fenced cattle out of streams, planted streamside buffer strips, and converted to no-till farming, the Chesapeake Bay is still remains polluted.

Track soil particles moving through watershed (Environmental Expert, 2 Dec 09)

Soil erosion occurs when soil particles are carried away by rainwater along slopes. These soil particles can transport harmful chemicals and sediment into streams and cause the soil to lose fertility. Measuring the movement of soil through a watershed is difficult. USDA-ARS scientists developed a method that tags soil particles with oxides of the rare earth elements. These elements are found only in very small quantities naturally so tagged soil particles can be collected and measured using mass spectrometry.

New Discovery Comes from Program on Chopping Block (The Lumberjack, 2 Dec 09)

Students at Humboldt State University have isolated two new halophilic bacteria from the Arcata salt marshes where lumber mill toxins have been dumped for years. The bacteria have a lot of similarities to a similar halophilic bacteria that is currently being used to treat oil spills.

Antarctica turns green (Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Dec 09)

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) has reported that the winter temperatures in west Antarctica have increased by as much as 5 degrees Celsius. This has led to more summer rain instead of snow, more exposed rock and soil, more cushion plants and grasses, and more flies and bacteria. But while part of the continent is warming, other areas are stable or cooling.


Comments are closed.