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Testing the Unintended Consequences of Incorporating Biochar into the Soil to Expand Carbon Sinks in Earth’s Biosphere

Testing the Unintended Consequences of Incorporating Biochar into the Soil to Expand Carbon Sinks in Earth’s Biosphere

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Reece Otsuka. Originally submitted for Ecology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with lecturer Penny Chisholm in the category of Engineering & Mechanical Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Reece Otsuka. Originally submitted for Ecology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with lecturer Penny Chisholm in the category of Engineering & Mechanical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
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Testing the Unintended Consequences of Incorporating Biochar into the Soil to ExpandCarbon Sinks in Earth’s Biosphere
1 December 2009
 
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 Abstract
Over the last several hundred years, human activity has brought forth the anthropogenicera. Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil fuel burning and deforestationhave raised concerns that a global warming effect could occur. Research has shown that theaverage temperature of the earth has been steadily increasing since the Industrial Revolution,and will continue to increase at an alarming rate due to current human activity. In response,scientists are now looking at geoengineering schemes to change the global landscape of theearth and reverse the effects of global warming.Carbon sequestration via biochar addition into soil has gained much attention in recentyears as a potential solution to global climate change. Biochar, which is black carbon, has beenfound to have excellent carbon retaining properties, which, when mixed into soil, could preventcarbon from being released into the atmosphere, thus reducing the planet’s carbon footprint.Biochar has also been shown to be a soil enhancer, increasing crop yield. However, there areside effects that could prevent the spreading of the use of biochar. Among these unintendedconsequences are nutrient leaching and accelerating the release of carbon through biochar degradation. Recent research has supported these claims; however, more testing is neededbefore any conclusive statement can be made regarding these findings, and ultimately, theeffectiveness of biochar as a global warming solution.Our proposed method will allow us to measure the degradability of biochar from itssurrounding soil microbes. The goal of this experiment is to extrapolate data from a relativelysmall scale experiment and use it to draw conclusions on a larger scale. This experiment,CHAREX, will take into account a number of variables in an attempt to model degradabilityusing different biochar feedstock (wood, corn, switchgrass). According to previous experiments,due to its high carbon content and low nitrogen content, wood-derived biochar would degrade
 
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the least, making it the best candidate to consider for a geoengineering solution. The resultsfrom CHAREX will give insight on the earth’s terrestrial functions via microbial degradation.

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