The living dead

How can you tell when a plant is going extinct? Afterall, I have a heck of a time eradicating certain plants from my garden because the number of weed seeds in the soil is far greater than the number of weeds sprouting each year. If a plant’s mechanism for dispersing seeds is disrupted it may live on for years or decades because of the soil’s seed bank, but it is biding its time. If seeds aren’t dispersed, eventually the plant will cease to exist.

Some researchers think we are in the midst of a global seed dispersal crisis, that many plants have lost the ability to add their seeds to next year’s stock and are living on the borrowed time of previous dispersals. Continue reading


The politics and science of soil carbon

When it comes to discussing climate change, knowing the role of carbon is important. It pops up everywhere: carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, carbon emissions, and carbon markets. A big driver of the shifting climate is the change in carbon’s location. More and more of it is being stored in the atmosphere, instead of in Earth’s crust and vegetation.

Many solutions for righting this imbalance suggest reducing emissions and recapturing the carbon we pumped into the air. I recently read a blog by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) about one such solution: a soil carbon market. The author described the debate about such markets among international climate change policy makers at their October meeting in Panama. That meeting was a primer for the UN’s climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, which began on Monday and finishes December 9th.

Me, doing a little soil science

It seems that there was contentious discussion around soil carbon markets in Panama. Some people argued that targeting soil carbon is a “mirage” or diversion from action that will really make a difference. Whether a market mediating soil carbon storage and release is fast or effective is beyond my scope of expertise. But I did take issue with a couple of the author’s statements about the state of soil carbon itself. I work in a biogeochemistry lab where soil organic carbon is a major research subject and the science of carbon is our specialty.

There were two statements in IATP’s blog with which I disagreed. I will list each and explain why, as a soil scientist, I find them empirically false. Continue reading

Denial fueling debate: The social context of climate science

The problem with climate change science is not the science. The methods are not revolutionary and the results are not falsified. The controversy lies in the fact that climate scientists are producing a quantitative assessment of a lifestyle. Ppms and ˚C are the units of critique and modeling results recommend cultural change.

There is scientific consensus on human-induced climate change. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2010 found >97 percent of the 1,372 climate researchers interviewed agreed that we are impacting climate. So why is the public’s concern about global warming decreasing and the percentage of Americans who think it will never happen on the rise?

Nothing makes a culture dig in its heels like a paradigm shift. The thing about paradigm shifts though, is that their acceptance has a pattern. Steven Sherwood, author of Science controversies past and present, shows how society’s reaction, particularly in the U.S., to climate change science mimics its reaction to other major shifts. Continue reading