Fresh soil in the Upper Tana Watershed, Kenya.
Fresh soil in the Upper Tana Watershed, Kenya. Fresh soil in the Upper Tana Watershed, Kenya. © Nick Hall

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Digging deep: Mapping the global potential of soils to combat climate change

Soils Revealed platform aggregates scientific data to provide access to 11,000 years of carbon records and projected climate mitigation potential

Scientists from The Nature Conservancy, Cornell University, Woodwell Climate Research Center and ISRIC – World Soil Information today unveiled a powerful new mapping tool in the race to mitigate runaway climate change by harnessing the full carbon-sequestering potential of the ground beneath our feet.

Soils Revealed is a fully interactive, open-access platform that utilises sophisticated machine-learning technology to combine an unprecedented richness of historic global soil data with projections for future carbon-storing capacity. Using this tool, policymakers, land managers and NGOs can pinpoint those areas within their purview where restoring soil carbon will have maximum impact on meeting national and regional climate goals.

“Soils have a vital role to play in mitigating climate change and supporting biodiversity, but to date we’ve tended to view them too much in static terms,” explains project lead Dr Deborah Bossio, Lead Soil Scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “One of our goals with this launch is to remind policymakers that these complex, millennia-old ecosystems are every bit as dynamic as forests – and every bit as capable of recovery, if the right management practices are prioritised. We already know how to do this – now Soils Revealed can show us where to focus these efforts.”

Using the platform, land managers are able to mark-out boundaries around a specific area of land at country or regional level and reveal how sequestered carbon stores have fluctuated over time – a first for platforms of this type.

“The Soils Revealed platform allows policy makers to get a better understanding of the stunning decrease of carbon in our soils since we started farming,” says Rik van den Bosch, director of project partner ISRIC – World Soil Information. “And, even more important, the platform also shows where the greatest potential exists to store more carbon in the soils and thus decrease the impact of climate change.”

Earlier this year, Dr Bossio led an influential study, published in Nature Sustainability, showing that soils are collectively capable of delivering one-quarter of the total contribution of natural climate solutions (NCS) toward absorbing atmospheric carbon. Of this total potential of 5.5 Gt of CO2-equivalent per year in soil organic carbon , it was calculated that 40% would come from protection of existing soil carbon stores in wetlands, forests and grasslands, with the other 60% being contributed by rebuilding depleted stocks much of it in agricultural soils.

To dig deeper into Soils Revealed, access the full platform here: https://soilsrevealed.org/

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s pioneering work alongside partner organizations to bring natural climate solutions like soil carbon restoration to scale, visit: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/natural-climate-solutions/

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.