Soil microbes are a diverse group of microorganisms that live in the soil and play a crucial role in maintaining soil health. They include bacteria, fungi, archaea, algae, and other microorganisms. They are responsible for breaking down organic matter, such as dead plant material, and converting it into forms that can be used by plants as nutrients. This process, known as decomposition, releases CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. But the role of microbes in the carbon cycle doesn’t end here. Microbes also help to store carbon by changing it into stable forms like humus, which is a complex mix of organic compounds that can be kept in the soil for a long time, or by growing large networks of mycorrhizal fungus, which can live for thousands of years and sequester carbon throughout the duration of its life (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-largest-organism-is-fungus/).
Promoting a healthy soil microbiome can increase the amount of carbon that is stored in the soil, which can help offset the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere by human activities like burning fossil fuels, traditional farming methods, and waste. This is a process called carbon sequestration. Several management practices, such as conservation tillage, cover crops, and adding organic matter to the soil, can help with this.
In order to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees over the next 8 years, it is crucial to reduce the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. This can be done by reducing the use of fossil fuels, increasing the use of renewable energy sources, converting to regenerative farming practices, and improving energy efficiency. However, it is also important to consider other forms of carbon sequestration, such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration, in order to achieve this goal.
Reforestation, although a much slower process, is the process of planting trees in areas that have been deforested. Trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in their biomass. By reforesting, we can sequester carbon in the trees and in the soil.
Soil carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon in the soil and can be done at a much faster rate than reforestation. As we’ve already talked about, this can be done by re-establishing and promoting healthy soil microbial populations, increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, and reducing tillage, which can change the structure of the soil and make it harder to store carbon.
In conclusion, soil microbes play a vital role in the carbon cycle. By breaking down organic matter and releasing CO2 and other gases into the air, but also by turning it into stable forms like humus and encouraging healthy soil microbial populations, it is possible to increase the amount of carbon that is stored in the soil. This can help to offset the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere by human activities like burning fossil fuels. If the goal is to keep global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next eight years, it is important to cut carbon emissions and develop faster ways to store carbon, like soil carbon sequestration.