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Carbon Sequestration Program

Sustaining Earth and its People: Translating Science into Practice


Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have been steadily rising because of increased use of fossil fuels and expansion of extensive, low input agriculture in the tropics and subtropics of Asia, Africa, and South America. One way to mitigate the increase in CO2 is to remove it from the atmosphere by increasing the amount of carbon stored (sequestered) in soil. A key issue, therefore, is the degree to which production agriculture can contribute to this mitigation. Our studies focus on determining the potential for carbon storage in dryland and irrigated cropping systems in the north-central U.S.A and the factors that govern carbon sequestration. With recent funding from the DOE-EPSCoR program, we are establishing a start-of the-art field research facility at the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Nebraska. We also have received another major grant from the DOE-Office of Biological and Environmental Research to initiate detailed, interdisciplinary studies that will (a) quantify annual amounts of carbon stored, (b) develop reliable, cost effective procedures for predicting annual carbon storage, (c) improve our understanding of processes controlling soil carbon storage, and (d) develop improved management practices that increase carbon sequestration while at the same time improving production efficiency, profit, and environmental quality. A working hypothesis of our research is that the goals of greater carbon storage, production efficiency, and environmental quality are not mutually exclusive.
Our research is being conducted at the western edge of the favorable rainfed "cornbelt" of the north-central USA, which is one of the most productive and largest agroecosystems in the world. Unlike neighboring states, however, irrigated maize-based systems also are prevalent because the climate in much of Nebraska is too dry to achieve adequate maize yields and the state has bountiful ground and surface water resources. Because crop water relations and nitrogen supply are primary determinants of crop productivity and carbon balance, maize-based systems in Nebraska allow the study of carbon sequestration over a wide extrapolation domain, which makes the location ideally suited for such a research program.
In 2000, through LB957, the Nebraska Unicameral formed a State Carbon Sequestration Advisory Committee (which includes two faculty participating in our research program), and directed the Director of Natural Resources to prepare a report analyzing factors regarding carbon sequestration. Our interdisciplinary research effort includes faculty, students, postdoctoral researchers and technicians from six departments in UNL and UNO. Scientific outputs from this program will provide the critical information needed to improve our ability to predict the amount of carbon that can be stored in the major cropping systems of the north-central USA and to better manage crop production systems for improved efficiency, profitability and environmental quality.

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For additional information contact:
Dr. Shashi B. Verma, Professor
School of Natural Resource Sciences
243 L.W. Chase Hall
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68583-0728
Phone: (402) 472-6702
Fax: (402) 472-6614

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