Soil health and carbon management
Soil, a natural four‐dimensional body at the atmosphere–lithosphere interface, is organic‐carbon‐mediated realm in which solid, liquid, and gaseous phases interact at a range of scales and generate numerous ecosystem goods and services. Soil organic carbon (SOC) strongly impacts soil quality, functionality and health.
Terms soil quality and soil health should not be used interchangeable. Soil quality is related to what it does (functions), whereas soil health treats soil as a living biological entity that affects plant health. Through plant growth, soil health is also connected with the health of animals, humans, and ecosystems within its domain. Through supply of macro‐ and micronutrients, soil health, mediated by SOC dynamics is a strong determinant of global food and nutritional security. Soil C pool consists of two related but distinct components: SOC and soil inorganic C (SIC). The SIC pool comprises of primary and secondary carbonates, and the latter consists of calcitic (no net sequestration of atmospheric CO2) and silicatic (net sequestration).
While SOC is highly dynamic, its mean residence time depends on the degree of protection (physical, chemical, biological, and ecological) within the soil matrix. Formation of stable microaggregates and of organo–mineral complexes can protect SOC against microbial processes for millennia. In addition to formation of silicatic type of secondary carbonates, leaching of bicarbonates into the subsoil or shallow water table is also an important mechanism of sequestration of CO2 as SIC.
Numerous soil functions and ecosystem services depend on SOC and its dynamics. Improvements in soil health, along with increase in availability of water and nutrients, increases soil's resilience against extreme climate events (e.g., drought, heat wave) and imparts disease‐suppressive attributes. Enhancing and sustaining soil health is also pertinent to advancing Sustainable Development Goals of the U.N. such as alleviating poverty, reducing hunger, improving health, and promoting economic development.
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