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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

FAO introduces new global soil database: allows analysis of carbon sequestration and biochar potential

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) introduces a new database on the world’s soils which improves knowledge of the current and future land productivity as well as the present carbon storage and carbon sequestration potential of the world’s soils. It helps to identify land and water limitations, and assist in assessing the risks of land degradation, particularly soil erosion risks.

Derived from the soil database, FAO has produced a global Carbon Gap Map that allows for the identification of areas where soil carbon storage is greatest and the physical potential for billions of tons of additional carbon to be sequestrated in degraded or nutrient-poor soils. Because of their enormous potential to store carbon, soils can become the key to mitigating climate change.

Soil information has often been the one missing information layer, the absence of which has added to the uncertainties of predicting the potential for and constraints to food and fibre production as well as the capacity of soils to hold carbon and to act as a sink.

Until now, most efforts to use agriculture to manage greenhouse gases have involved above-ground sequestration, primarily through planting trees, since the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in this way is substantial. However, planting trees entails risks, because the carbon stored in them can be destroyed by fires or natural degradation processes.

This is why there is a growing interest in finding ways to increase carbon sequestration in soils, most notably biochar. Biochar, also known as agrichar, aims to cure degraded and nutrient-poor soils by adding recalcitrant char to them, which acts as a stable and permanent carbon sink. Biochar offers one of the most drastic solutions to mitigating climate change because the char can be sequestered safely and easily for centuries, possibly millennia.

Soils are presumed to be the largest carbon reservoir of the terrestrial carbon cycle, although estimates of their magnitude vary widely. Soil can be a source or a sink for green house gases depending on land use management. For long-term sequestration, organic carbon must be stored in forms and in locations in the soil profile with slow turnover.

The chemical and physical properties of soils also help to determine specific information about how well a soil will perform as a filter of wastes, as a home to organisms, as a location for buildings and as pool for carbon. The more information we have about soil properties, the more we can evaluate the quality of our natural resources all over the world and their potential to produce food now and in future scenarios of climate change.
Soil characterization data are a key piece of the picture of how an ecosystem work. Soil properties also tell us whether the soil has the potential to store enough water to keep plants growing through a drought or to withstand a flood. Farmers’ knowledge of soil properties also forms the basis of managing fertilizer application efficiently thus reducing avoidable nutrient losses to the environment. - Freddy Nachtergaele, FAO soil expert
FAO and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) combined recent regional and national updates of soil information worldwide and incorporated the FAO-UNESCO Soil Map of the World into a new, downloadable Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD). Other partners such as The European Soil Bureau Network; the Institute of Soil Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and ISRIC World Soils contributed significantly to the information.

Soils as carbon stores

Different soils have different capacities to act as a store for carbon which has direct implications for capturing greenhouse gases. The world's soils hold more organic carbon (1500 Gt) than the atmosphere that contains about half this amount as CO2 (720 Gt), and the vegetation (600 Gt) combined:
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Thus, relatively small changes in the flow of carbon into or out of soils have significant effect on a global scale. In addition to predicting the effect of changing rainfall patterns under climate change scenarios, scientists require information on soil moisture storage capacities which are provided by this database. Another important set of data is provided by soil Ph maps.

The database

The HWSD provides improved soil information worldwide particularly needed in the context of the Climate Change Convention and post Kyoto Protocol instruments for soil carbon measurements and carbon trading. It can also be used by agronomists, farm experts and scientists in planning the sustainable development of agricultural production and will improve land degradation assessments, environmental impact studies and sustainable land management options.

The database will also serve to guide policies aimed at addressing land competition issues concerning food, energy and biodiversity.

The compilation of the HWSD was implemented at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and verification of the new harmonized database was undertaken by all partners.

The completion of this comprehensive harmonized soil information will improve estimation of current and future land potential productivity, help identify land and water limitations, and enhance assessing risks of land degradation, particularly soil erosion.

The HWSD contributes sound scientific knowledge for planning sustainable expansion of agricultural production and for guiding policies to address emerging land competition issues concerning food, energy and biodiversity. This is of critical importance for rational natural resource management and making progress towards achieving food security and sustainable agricultural development, especially with regard to the threats of global climate change and the need for adaptation and mitigation.

This digitized and online accessible soil information system will allow policy makers, planners and experts to overcome some of the shortfalls of data availability to address today’s pressing challenges of food production and food security and plan for new challenges of climate change, accelerated natural resources degradation, and land competition concerning food, energy and biodiversity The HWSD database is available from FAO on DVD or can be downloaded from the FAO/IIASA website.


IIASA/FAO: Harmonized World Soil Database.

FAO Water Unit: FAO, IIASA and partners release a new Harmonized World Soil DB - July 20, 2008.

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