Landscaping Implications from the Science of the Marin Carbon Project 01/07/2016
[00:00:00 – 00:00:45]
Presenter: The stakeholders were involved with it from the beginning. It was a bunch of people saying, “How do we increase our carbon capture within our land management?” They just wanted to know. They didn't start out with a theory, they just said, “How can we do this?” We think we can do it and how can we do it. So what I'm going to talk about today is, some of the basic findings of it and then, a little bit about compost and maybe hopefully promote some ideas of where you all can come in because these folks are managers of rural lands and as far as I can tell, you're all our managers of urban and suburban lands, and maybe sometimes roll bands also.
[00:00:46 – 00:02:17]
Presenter: So in some way, you're similar to this group of people and that you're stewards of the lands that you're taken care of, in one way or another. So this is the mission of the marin carbon project and basically to enhance carbon sequestration, rangeland, agricultural land, forest soils through applied research demonstration and implementation. Now when Chris says, this has implications for the world, I certainly thought it did. I left a ten-year career and climate policy to go work for these folks because I think it's the most exciting thing I've seen in 10 years. This is one of the city's climate goals that I was really lucky to work on as my last project. Zero 5100 roots, Zero waste, 50% sustainable transportation, 100% renewable energy and roots and that's the city's climate plan, so we're going to talk about the roots portion of this today which is the ability of plants, majors living technology to capture carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil so, this is the part where it bear with me if I'm boring you but it's really good for at least for a lot of folks who are not scientists, don't work with plants to understand, when plants breathe, they put out oxygen and moisture right and they breathe in Co2 alright, during the bright time of the day, and under the energy of the Sun and with water from the soil, then minerals from the soil, they build sugars and those sugars are carbohydrates.
[00:02:18 – 00:03:02]
Presenter: So one of the things that I hope that you come away with today is this information which is all the carbon in carbohydrates comes from the air and nowhere else. So, everything that we're wearing that's not synthetic or plastic based, is based in carbohydrates, what we eat are based in carbohydrates. Materials that we build, a lot of our buildings and tables and furniture, all carbohydrates. So the premise of the Marin Carbon Project is that, anything that we eat, build or you know live with, clothing can be made in a way that's climate beneficial because you're pulling in carbon from the air to make carbohydrates. If you do that in the right way, we can have an entire system that helps us balance the climate.
[00:03:03 – 00:04:06]
Presenter: So the marin carbon project looked at, how to test the mechanism of photosynthetic carbon transfer into soils without the emissions associated with manure and I'll back up and say when they first did their preliminary projects, they looked at soil carbon in Marin rangelands and they found a really big difference. Some rangelands had like 15 tons per hectare of stole soil carbon and some had a hundred. It's a really big difference and they looked at what was there a difference in the grazing management. Well there was a difference in grazing management but it didn't correlate to soil carbon. So they looked, they asked the farmers a bunch of questions and it turns out, the thing that was the indicator for the rangelands that had high soiled carbon was, if there had been manure historically applied. So those farmers, maybe sometime in the last 80-85 years had land applied manure on their rangelands. So that was interesting because they had thought that it would be about grazing management, turns out it's more about amendments of an organic carbon on to the soil.
[00:04:07 – 00:05:16]
Presenter: So they wanted to test this theory without using manure because manure has a lot of emissions, greenhouse gas emissions associated with it, else as negative water quality benefit issues and chemical fertilizers, same thing; issues with water quality and issues with greenhouse gas emissions. So they used compost and to mimic this theory, that the application of an organic amendment increased soil carbon, they put a half an inch of compost out on rangeland and we'll get to that in a second. so I don't know why, I put this slide in here just because people often ask, “What do you mean by compost?” I don't mean mulch, I don't mean green waste or it's something you would get out of the green bin and chopped up and put out there. In this case we're referring to organic products that have gone through the biodegradation process, have gone through thermophilic phase of composting, which means they've reached a high temperature over a certain period of time and they've been completely decomposed, which kills all pathogens that may be present in that waste.
[00:05:17 – 00:06:31]
Presenter: So here's just a quick side of what I mean by thermophilic, it's where those little microorganisms, the heat loving ones start eating everything and the soil heats up and then that heat eventually kills off all the other unbeneficial organisms and at the end, you're left with more of a stable new product that we call compost. So as again please forgive me if you already know this compost is a ratio of carbon and nitrogen and so that means you need the brown stuff and you need the green stuff and this slide I put in there just because I'm sure you guys know this but the California water board didn't know this. I spent the entire summer last year educating them on the difference between organic nitrogen and inorganic nitrogen, water soluble nitrogen and stable nitrogen and compost has nitrogen in it but it's stable, it's not going to run off and your water table, it's just going to be released to the soil slowly over time and that's a really big difference when you're talking about you know getting nitrogen the right amount into your soils for plant growth in a way that's not going to interfere with your water table or runoff into local [Inaudible 00:06:24] systems. so again you may know this but the water board did not know this.
[00:06:32 – 00:07:46]
Presenter: So we're going to get back to the project. So they spread a half an inch of compost. This is what it looks like in the spreading, that's John Wick driving the tractor. It looks like a dusting, they basically just dusted the ground with compost and, this is one of, I think 6 experiment sites and they tested a couple different methods. There's the control plot, you can see the composted plot, there was a plot they plowed using the key-line plow which had a lot of claims about soil carbon increases and then they plowed and compost it, and they tested these six plots, for 5 years and the interesting thing is in the first year, they didn't really see anything but in the second year they saw something that the cows already knew about, so that's remember this radius, so where those cows, the cows naturally selected the plots that had been, had compost applied, and it turns out that, that's because the plants that grew from, that had a higher volume of protein and the forage production was much greater on those plots, and those that was later scientifically tested with UC Berkeley; who is the science lead on this project.
[00:07:47 – 00:08:51]
Presenter: So we did all this testing and really the cows know best is my moral of the story and this is some more scientific graphs but this is telling us what the cows knew that plant production increased every year following a one-time compost application so this is 2012 data, we have data through 2015 and it shows even during the drought, that these plots had an increase in forage production compared to the other plots. So there's that and then the other thing that was really interesting is that, it turns out that the control plots, the blue over there were actually losing carbon and that the plots that had compost applied, gained carbon not the first year. They didn't see anything but the second year, the third year, the fourth year and the fifth year. And we think that you didn't see anything the first year because it was essentially stabilizing what's a loss in this system and right now from the literature review that we've done, it looks like most rangelands worldwide, most grasslands are losing carbon, because of climate change, because of erosion, because of overgrazing. Those systems, they're kind of what we call crashing from a carbon perspective.
[00:08:52 – 00:09:47]
Presenter: So the compost not only increased carbon, it arrested the loss of the carbon in that system. This is just as more of the same thing, it's just showing the increase in carbon in composted plots versus control now. It is a water constraint system in years where we didn't get any water, there was very little game however; we did see still game over the control plots which had none and increase in retaining soil moisture which is really important in those [Inaudible 00:09:21] years. So, this is another piece of science that I think it's important to understand because it's one thing that the carbon project found out and it's why so important and potentially so powerful. So soil carbon comes in a couple different fractions and well for this case, we'll call them a temporary fraction, some place where it stays in the soil for decades and some place where it stays in the soil for a century or millennia, so we call that the permanent fraction.
[00:09:48 – 00:10:49]
Presenter: Most soil carbon and this is what we knew before is labile. It turns over very quickly right, it comes in through photosynthesis and the roots and then it gets eaten by microorganisms, then die and it decays back out through the system. So that's mostly what we think of, when we thought of soil carbon previous to this study. Now what this found was that, those graphs that I showed you earlier were net carbon game in these two other pools; the occluded light fraction and the heavy fraction. So this is new science, so we didn't understand before that carbon could move to these more permanent pools so quickly but it moved within a year into these more permanent fractions which means that it's not just coming into the soil and turning over in a biogenic cycle, it's actually coming in and staying so that really changed the way scientists are thinking now about soils as a carbon sink not just as a place to cycle carbon but as a place to store carbon.
[00:10:50 – 00:11:43]
Presenter: This is a really pretty picture that I hope to paint some time. Let me describe it. So working with the USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Colorado State University which keeps the big models that the USDA uses around soils and lands, they grafted this response and they said, “Okay, let's put this new information that we know into the model and see what happens”. And this line that looks like the ski-slope, that starts on the top left and comes down, that's carbon, that was added from the compost, so people were like yeah of course, you get more carbon in the soil when you put compost and because there's carbon in your compost. Well that's really true so that carbon goes into the soil and then over time you can see it goes away in terms of its permanence. Now what you see on the bottom is the soils response to the addition of that carbon, so that's the photosynthetic increase of carbon in the soil and that lasts for predicted up to a hundred years.
[00:11:44 – 00:13:12]
Presenter: So we have data for five years, but the models think that, that one time increase in plant health and productivity that the compost brought will increase carbon storage and capture for a hundred years out into the future provided that, land is not plowed; provided that, you know, it doesn't turn into a giant desert so you know you have to keep “doesn't it”, “can't plow it” and keep the carbon right but if you keep it in the intact healthy system, where the soil is covered, that's probably what you should get. So one thing that people say now is, Marin carbon project is just about compost. It's not just about compost, it's really about how you maximize soil carbon and the different practices that you can use to do that. So working with the USDA, there's we have a new model out, it’s called comet and it looks at 34 practices that rangeland managers can do to enhance soil carbon capture in their systems. This is just a bar, line chart of a couple different of those practices, practices that are estimated for a Marin farm, that was one of our carbon farm projects and it says you know, improve your pasture management, restore riparian areas, digest your manure, put compost on your rangeland and agro forestry, so plant trees, windbreaks, riparian buffers and this is sort of the carbon benefit from one hectare over 20 years.
[00:13:13 – 00:14:13]
Presenter: So, what this project did was it allowed the folks who were part of the Marin carbon project to say, “wow”, what if instead of managing just for annual yield, we managed for carbon in the soil knowing that managing for carbon is going to manage for yield in the long run, so then they started looking at all these other practices. Let’s see if I can… This is something you guys know, this is soil that's degraded without carbon on the left and then soil that’s had carbon restored on the right. So you see increased water holding capacity, increased aeration, filtration and increased nutrient uptake in the plant community, and really what you're talking about, I think the most basic form is, you're feeding the soil right so that carbon and nitrogen is food for the microbial life that lives in the soil and by feeding the system and since soil’s the base of that whole system, the whole thing becomes more productive, more resilient and healthier.
[00:14:14 – 00:14:38]
Presenter: So this is again I just put this in here because again it's not just about compost. You have to keep the soil covered and disturb it as little as possible and again we're talking about art research which was done in grassland systems. You guys are in systems that are much more touched, they probably turn over more but these are some of the important principles for keeping carbon in the ground. There's some….
[00:14:38 – 00:16:01]
Speaker 1: Maybe I missed it but how you had a treatment that was both plowing and compost? How did that come out?
Presenter: Yeah, so the plowing and compost one, we saw in a plant growth response, but overall, the soil carbon was a net, it was a net. I think it was like a balance in the end because we put carbon in but then by plowing the soil, you're breaking it, which makes it available, which increases plant growth, but you're also that carbon is respiring to the air, so we did not see a net carbon benefit.
Speaker 1: So that's number 2 basically?
Presenter: Right, so exactly, so disturb the soils little possible, don't plow it. We have some systems now like pie ranch down in (pescadero) is looking at, you know doing a no-till system for four years and cover crops and grasses and then going in and telling it and using it for vegetable production for two and then putting it back in a more root covered system for four so that they can try to get an overall in that game, while still using that in a conventional sense to grow the type of crops that they grow in that system. So there's lots of different systems, keep in mind this research was done specifically for rangeland and now we're in the process of looking at how it can be applied in other systems.
[00:16:02 – 00:17:12]
Presenter: Okay, so the main, the main thing in this is, really trying to change the way we think about managing for natural systems, as managing for carbon because carbon is the keystone in that system, because water follows carbon and because when you have carbon and water in productivity in your soil, from a biological perspective, you also have enhanced nutrient availability and you have better management of your nitrogen cycle as well, so instead of thinking about managing for plant growth, we're thinking about managing for carbon under the soil which then inherently helps manage for plant health and growth in the long run or maybe even say in the medium run but maybe not in the immediate short run. In the same way you see from a petrochemical fertilizer that just bumps it and you're seeing a lot of above-ground growth in the plant and not a lot of root growth in the plant. So what the work of the Marin carbon project is now trying to do is to work with land stewards to kind of rethink the way that they managed land into managing for carbon in the soil.
[00:17:13 – 00:18:01]
Presenter: We've been really successful with this, the governor this year, last year added a new pillar to his climate change strategy, so now he has five pillars instead of four and that fifth pillar is working lands, and he's been very supportive as most of the state agencies and federal agencies of this information, so we're now really starting to look at land as a way to draw down existing atmospheric carbon and the work with our CDs is also going ahead. We have 17 our CDs, that are now rolling out carbon farm plan training in their districts and we hope to have funding through the healthy soils initiative, that we've also worked on with the state available for those projects this year.
[00:18:02 – 00:19:35]
Presenter: This is a slide that my boss John Wick puts in his presentations and it's really optimistic and I kind of like it, but he's basically saying, “this is new information and if we can organize around it, we can live a life that we live now but that's going to be productive, balanced for the planet and good for our health and one where, we spend more time focusing on managing for abundance and less time focusing on managing for diseases, pests and other issues that arise in the short view system”. So he's really thinking about that everything that we wear, that we eat, that we make, can be made in a climate beneficial way, if we figure out how to manage our lands that way. So there's this question which I was, Chris had told I had no idea how to answer, but this is what I found in the bay friendly landscaping and nurture the soil seems to be one of the seven principles, so that's great and conserve water. We've gotten a lot of support from the water agencies just because the increase we're seeing in water holding capacity from managing lands in this way is so great. That's been really good and then the other thing is you know, where you guys go and what you do. I don't know if you have clients or lands that you work on, but we need a lot more compost essentially and it's not going to all come from big facilities. There's not enough big facilities in the state right now. Yeah?
[00:19:36 – 00:20:05]
Speaker 2: What was the source of good compost, [Inaudible 00:19:38]?
Presenter: Yeah so, that was green waste and municipal waste, municipal food waste, that was Army-certified and there were was one compost, that was used both in the Marin Headlands and the Sierra Foothills, where the other experiments were, because they bracketed the system and I forget where it's from, but it was a organic certified, Army-certified green waste and municipal food waste compost. (ok), yeah.
[00:20:06 – 00:21:32]
Speaker 3: Today, did anyone do any calculations about total carbon costs like transporting the compost, that sort of thing …
Presenter: Yeah so there were two life cycle papers done by the University of Berkeley and in conjunction with the Colorado State University and they looked at the full lifecycle emissions. I don't have those slides with me but of trucking the compost, of creating the compost right because there's some emissions associated when you compost. Tracking that compost, applying the compost and then the sequestration benefits over time compared to manure application or a petrochemical fertilizer and both the manure and therefore chemical fertilizer have a net increase in emissions whereas the composting in every scenario except for one has avoided emissions by a very large amount and the one scenario where it doesn't is if you theoretically have a landfill that captures ninety percent of its greenhouse gas emissions and you have a drought for ten years, so basically it's a good practice. Taking those organics out of the landfill or out of land app, where they're going to be emitting emissions, getting them into compost where those emissions are mitigated and then getting that compost on the ground where it turns on a carbon sink, is a net benefit in every way that we've run it so far.
[00:21:33 – 00:22:49]
Speaker 4: One more question please, manure compost so there’s a saying true about that like composting manure and [Inaudible 00:21:42] as opposed to just [Inaudible 00:21:43-00:21:47]
Presenter: No, no, so manure compost is really good and we are right now you know trying, we're talking about dairy industry like how do you compost your manure and can we get it more composted for the big, most of your methane comes off of the manure in the first two or three days but it's produced so from a large scale perspective, you need to capture it and get it covered or in the compost quickly; for the backyard operations or on farm operations that are small to mid scale, composting is still going to be better than just putting it out on the land because when it's out on the land, it continues to bio-degrade and release methane, it also can be a source of water contamination and versus if it's composted, you're going to see not the emissions, there's no missions once it's out on the land and you're not going to see the water quality issues associated with it, so yes it's still good but if you're really looking to maximize emissions capture, you’ve got to get that manure quickly into some systems yeah.
[00:22:50 – 00:24:32]
Speaker 5: Another, is any research about using a compost tea to carbon sequestration…
Presenter: Yes, so we did, I wasn't there when they did this but, one of the, two of the test plots used compost tea and I think Elaine Ingham was the one who created that compost tea.
Speaker 5: And how you compare with this?
Presenter: Not very well. They saw a little bit of enhanced plant growth but nothing that had the response that they composted, so to the point where they just sort of stopped working with it and didn't test it further because it didn't look like it had something that was really of use.
Speaker 5: So in my view, he said but it doesn't work as a current scene?
Presenter: You know why we think, listen this is now I'm entering into speculation right, okay so what I think, what we think is going on is that because those soils are so degraded, that that compost tea is not enough to get the carbon back to the point where it's going to stop the loss because it's bleeding right, so you kind of have to stop that loss and then it starts restoring itself. If you look at biodynamic agriculture, you know teas are used a lot but they're also if you read some of those lectures on, they're meant to be used for a healthy system and they generally really feed the microorganism fungi and all those other beneficial things that are only present once you have soil carbon levels that are a certain height like certain amount, that and at this point, our range lands are so degraded that, we think that's why the compost tea didn't really show up as a big indicator because it wasn't enough to actually restore the soil carbon levels that we need.
[00:24:33 – 00:24:54]
Speaker 5: So maybe featured chances to do that the first day and then research like, [Inaudible 00:24:38]
Presenter: So this, the compost really was like, it was like a big dose of medicine and because these systems were really sick from a perspective of not having carbon in them, yeah. Question? Yep?
[00:24:55 – 00:26:59]
Speaker 6: They didn't even crunch any big numbers about what it would mean globally if you know, people did this on so many millions of acres?
Presenter: Oh yeah, we do that a lot and I refuse to show those numbers, everybody likes to argue over numbers when the point is actually how you support people on the ground doing the practices that we know work so I generally don't show the numbers but I will say that if we did 5% of California Rangelands every year with these practices, we would offset the emissions associated with the residential electricity sector in the state. So very high potential when you start to look at it at a national scale and globally which we're doing right now as part of an exercise with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the IPCC, we think there's very, very strong potential to manage arts temperature.
Speaker 6: And I think it's important because we're constantly hearing about how hopeless everything is, we’re here to climate change and you know, if it is something that can be used to make a substantial bite in the carbon and our carbon inventory then, you know it's worth people knowing that, (yeah absolutely), even though I realized people argue over those numbers and there's so many things in the black box that no one really sees, (right), few people see.
Presenter: Right. I wish I had those other slides in here. There's you know, the photosynthetic capacity of the planet is so huge that the difference between carbon emissions in the atmosphere in the summer versus the winter are extreme and you can look online. Noah has a sweet little video where it shows that year and carbon emissions and they go down so drastically in the spring, in the northern hemisphere because all the plants sleep out so we think that there's enough potential that even when we have to stop emitting so much carbon, it's just like the endless story we have to do that but we also have to deal with this load of carbon in the air and we think with these types of practices, knowing what we now know about the soil, that we can actually reduce that level of atmospheric carbon enough that we could probably stabilize the climate. If we can do this in enough land, yeah?
[00:27:00 – 00:28:18]
Speaker 7: So, I’ve just the question of sourcing the different carbon inputs, so once you have [Inaudible 00:27:09] (that's right), is it feasible on this largest scale that you are talking about or the inputs, are they going to be almost [Inaudible 00:27:18] just generic waste for like [Inaudible 00:27:23]
Presenter: I mean the reason why I put the thing about composting in there as we're really talking about a product that's gone through the composting process, the thermophilic process because it's really important for health reasons and it's really important for water quality, but the answer to your question is no, John Wick and Peggy have a certified organic ranch so they needed to use certified organic compost for that ranch but, what we're working with the state right now and the USDA is not based on organic compost although…
Speaker 7: It’s the general ranch…
Presenter: it's just, I mean right now compost in the state sells to vineyards and orchards and high-value buyers and landscapers and definitely not to ranch so we are going to need a lot more compost from cheaper sources in order to actually deploy this solution which is, Chris is pointing out is actually an incredibly powerful solution for climate change. Yeah?
[00:28:19 – 00:29:28]
Speaker 8: Have you ever visited [Inaudible 00:28:22] farm, its …
Presenter: I have not but some of my colleagues have.
Speaker 8: Oh great, then I was just, as a model, pursuant, first of all its composting ability, its pretty …
Presenter: oh great, thank you.
Speaker 8: Because I don’t learn looking at the compost [Inaudible 00:28:37]
Presenter: Well that's cool, so the reason I put this up here is I feel like, we need some, we need to be capturing these materials wherever we can and the more you can capture them closer to the site where they're from or create compost you know on the sites where you're managing and of the better for the whole situation because it keeps the biomass where it's being produced and then it you know, increases that productivity of that particular land so we're working with the University of California Extension Program on their master composting program and then trying to integrate that into as many other places as we can so that we can get more people knowing how to do good compost out in the landscapes that they're working on and that compost is going to vary from worm composting to ranch composting to my compost bin in my backyard. Yeah?
[00:29:29 – 00:30:31]
Speaker 9: So for, lets say, a ranger or land on it to [Inaudible 00:29:34], Can it imply for grants or something to have off- setted [Inaudible 00:29:40]?
Presenter: Yeah, so that’s what I said earlier, which we're trying to do through the governor's healthy soils program, which is to make AB 32, which is the cap-and-trade program in California, the revenue from that funding to funnel towards Carbon Farming, what we're hoping is and how it's being set up is that, a rangeland manager would talk to their RCD and they'd say I want to do a carbon farm plan and then they would have to do that plan but then there would be money for implementing those practices both from the federal and RCS hand from the state of California.
Question: And so the all time, when do you think that was?
Presenter: It was in the 2015 budget for cap and trade funds but that budget hasn't been passed yet by the legislature so we're just waiting for them to pass it. Yeah. Oh of course, sorry.
[00:30:32 – 00:32:14]
Speaker 10: So if we give you some speculation on urban landscape, if you ask so let’s say we’re all craving compost that’s in our parts, me I guess speculation and where we can do carbon [Inaudible 00:30:48] in urban areas, [Inaudible 00:30:51] ?
Presenter: So I wouldn't, I mean, that you could go online and look at this comment tool which is that, it's a really easy three click to or you pick your region and then it tells you your soil type and then you can pick from these different practices and they don't all have to be rural practices. We've recently found these numbers aren't in the tool yet but that restoring small creek sides like getting your riparian zone, restoration and increases the soil carbon in a huge amount, so small Soil sections of creeks being restored, increase whole system carbon and the water holding capacity within that system so anytime you have a small creek, getting that system right, things like you know head rose, again we want to avoid bare soil and I know that you know, bare soil is, I can see it right there, but having anywhere you can get plants or roots in the ground and you can keep those roots in as long as possible, that increases your soil carbon capture so you can play with that tool and you can do, I'm going to do a half a hectare of cover crop but that would just be for you changing an open field to something that's planted you know, or open space to something that's planted and you can see the carbon benefits associated with that.
[00:32:15 – 00:33:17]
Presenter: A lot of these carbon benefits are associated up front, if you remember that getting those organics which San Francisco does so well out of the landfill and in the compost was a huge carbon benefit so whenever you can capture green waste plus your whatever nitrogen base you're using, either it's wet food or manure and we have a whole program that looks at human waste and getting that composted, you’re having a huge carbon benefit. I think in urban systems, it's going to be replacing chemical fertilizers with compost and it's probably going to be you know getting more areas covered in grasses and more small riparian systems restored but again I really look to you guys because you're the innovators, you're the stewards, I don't know this. I'm a policy wonk who's really fascinated with the soil and that, so that's my presentation.