How Soil Microbes Fight Climate Change

Around the globe, 2016 has been a dusty year. Just this month, massive dust storms enveloped Guazhou County in China, engulfing five-story buildings. Dust storms in Kuwait suspended oil exports, while another  storm engulfed the Texas Panhandle. In January, red clouds of dust swept across Free State, South Africa, while scientists warned that the erosion of nutrient-rich topsoil threatened food security.

But the loss of soil also presents a less obvious challenge: it robs us of a key ally in fighting climate change. That ally is soil microbes.

Global soils already hold three times as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere, and there’s room for much more. According to a recent study in Nature, enhanced carbon storage in the world’s farmland soils could reduce greenhouse gas concentrations by between 50 and 80 percent.

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