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Abandoned Russian farmland soaks up 50 million tons of carbon every year

New research by European scientists has revealed the staggering climate benefits of that sweeping change in land use. According to the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, wild vegetation growing on former USSR farming lands has sucked up approximately 50 million tons of carbon every year since 1990.
When the USSR collapsed, the communal farming systems that helped feed the union's citizens collapsed with it. Farmers abandoned 1 million acres of farmland and headed into the cities in search of work.

New research by European scientists has revealed the staggering climate benefits of that sweeping change in land use. According to the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, wild vegetation growing on former USSR farming lands has sucked up approximately 50 million tons of carbon every year since 1990.

New Scientist reports that's equivalent to 10 percent of Russia's yearly fossil fuel carbon emissions:

"Everything like this makes a difference," says Jonathan Sanderman, a soil chemist at CSIRO Land and Water in Australia. "Ten per cent is quite a bit considering most nations are only committed to 5 per cent reduction targets. So by doing absolutely nothing by having depressed their economy they've achieved quite a bit."

He says the abandoned farmland is probably the largest human-made carbon sink, but notes it came at the cost of enormous social and economic hardship.

Modelling the effect into the future, [study co-author Irina] Kurganova estimates that, since the land has remained uncultivated, another 261 million tonnes will be sequestered over the next 30 years. At this point, the landscape will reach equilibrium, with the same amount of carbon escaping into the atmosphere as is being taken up.

The finding is a stark reminder of how Earth does a bang-up job of soaking up carbon if we leave more of it undeveloped and un-farmed.

homepage: homepage: http://grist.org/news/abandoned-russian-farmland-soaks-up-50-million-tons-of-carbon-every-year/


whats the delta? 25.Oct.2013 17:20

hb

how many millions of carbon (as if that really means something, but for GW religious purposes only ) before when it was farm land? had to have been something?

jut 27.Oct.2013 17:29

bobo

Typic farming practices result in the loss of carbon from the soil due to microbial activity.

Agriculture land is a carbon source, prairie is a carbon sink.


Carbon cost of collective farming collapse in Russia
 link to onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Abstract

The collapse of collective farming in Russia after 1990 and the subsequent economic crisis led to the abandonment of more than 45 million ha of arable lands (23% of the agricultural area). This was the most widespread and abrupt land use change (LUC) in the 20th century in the northern hemisphere. The withdrawal of land area from cultivation led to several benefits including carbon (C) sequestration. Here, we provide a geographically complete and spatially detailed analysis of C sequestered in these abandoned lands. The average C accumulation rate in the upper 20 cm of mineral soil was 0.96 0.08 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 for the first 20 years after abandonment and 0.19 0.10 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 during the next 30 years of post-agrogenic evolution and natural vegetation establishment. The amount of C sequestered over the period 1990-2009 accounts to 42.6 3.8 Tg C per year. This C sequestration rate is equivalent to ~10% of the annual C sink in all Russian forests. Furthermore, it compensates all fire and post-fire CO2 emissions in Russia and covers about 4% of the global CO2 release due to deforestation and other land use changes. Our assessment shows a significant mitigation of increasing atmospheric CO2 by prolonged C accumulation in Russian soils caused by collective farming collapse.