Carbon Sequestration in Soils
STEPHEN J. CHAPMAN
1 Introduction to the Carbon Cycle in Soil
Carbon sequestration in soils is the process whereby atmospheric carbondioxide can be ﬁxed into soil such that it is held there in a relatively permanentform,
the term ‘sequestration’ implies a combination of both capture andstorage. This, of course, will require that the carbon dioxide is converted tosome other chemical form and this will usually be organic rather than inor-ganic. An understanding of how this might be promoted ﬁrst requires anunderstanding of the carbon cycle in soil.There is an inorganic carbon cycle in soil, whereby carbon dioxide dissolvedin rainwater forms carbonic acid which then reacts with basic cations to formsecondary carbonates, or with calcium–magnesium silicate minerals during theweathering process to release basic cations that then precipitate as carbonates.
However, such processes are extremely slow and are only likely to be of importance in the saline and sodic (alkaline) soils found in arid and semi-aridzones.
Hence, the inorganic carbon cycle is not of consequence for most UKand European soils.Of far greater signiﬁcance is the organic carbon cycle, whereby atmosphericcarbon dioxide is ﬁxed by photosynthesis into plants by forming organiccompounds, the bulk of which are cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, thoughwith additional protein, lipids and other complex compounds. As plants die,these compounds enter the soil and are broken down by the action of soilmicroorganisms which then release the carbon dioxide back into the atmo-sphere (see Figure 1). Of course, an important sub-cycle occurs where plants areconsumed by animals; part of the carbon is respired, but animal excreta (andthe animals themselves as they die) ultimately ﬁnds its way into the soil only tobe decomposed along with the plant remains.
Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, 29Carbon Capture: Sequestration and StorageEdited by R.E. Hester and R.M. Harrison
Royal Society of Chemistry 2010Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, www.rsc.org
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