Challenges and opportunities in soil organic matter research


  • R. Lal

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    1. Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
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Soil organic matter (SOM) can be a source or sink for atmospheric CO2 depending on land use, and management of soil, vegetation and water resources. SOM is a source of atmospheric CO2, with the use of extractive farming practices that lead to a negative nutrient balance and exacerbate soil degradation. The historic loss of C from the SOM pool between the 1850s and 2000 is estimated at 78 ± 12 Gt compared with the emission of 270 ± 30 Gt from fossil fuel combustion. Despite its numerous direct and ancillary benefits, enhancing the SOM pool is a major challenge, especially in impoverished and depleted soils in harsh tropical climates. In addition to biophysical factors, there are also numerous social, economic and political constraints that limit increase in SOM pools. Conversion of plough-tillage to no-till farming, an important practice to enhance the SOM pool, is constrained by the limited access to herbicides and seed drill, and the competing uses of crop residues. Yet, enhancing the SOM pool is essential to restoring degraded soils, advancing food security and improving the environment. Important subjects among researchable topics include: assessing the rate of SOM accretion for a wide range of land use and management practices with reference to a baseline; evaluating the importance of biochar; measuring and predicting SOM at landscape and extrapolation to regional scale; establishing relationships between SOM and soil quality and agronomic productivity; determining on- and off-site effects of crop residues removal for ethanol/biofuel production; determining the fate of C in SOM translocated by erosional processes; evaluating nutrient requirements for increasing SOM in croplands; validating predictive models in tropical environments; and developing methodology for trading C credits.