Tristram O. West talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Emerging Research Front Paper in the field of
Article: Soil organic carbon sequestration rates by
tillage and crop rotation: A global data
Journal: SOIL SCI SOC AMER J, 66 (6): 1930-1946 NOV-DEC
Addresses: Oak Ridge Natl Lab, Div Environm Sci, POB 2008,
Oak Ridge, TN 37831 USA.
Oak Ridge Natl Lab, Div Environm Sci, Oak Ridge, TN 37831
Why do you think your paper is highly
The paper quantitatively estimates soil carbon sequestration rates
following changes in cropland management. Potential changes in soil carbon
stocks differ with land management, environmental variables, and across
climate regimes. Analyzing existing data from previously published
literature helped confirm that changes in soil carbon did exist and were
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
The paper estimates soil carbon sequestration rates as a function of crop
rotation, tillage intensity, and time. New methods were described that
allowed for synthesis of disparate data. These methods allowed for the
synthesis of data related to changes in soil carbon.
"Policies to increase soil carbon
and to monitor, record, and verify changes in
the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide are
currently being negotiated on a regular
In research disciplines where experimental field work occurs, there tends
to be a large amount of data published on related and sometimes non-related
issues. The compilation and analysis of all existing and relevant data
surrounding a specific issue rarely occurs. I am convinced that the
compilation and analysis of already existing data can address many current
problems that have remained unsolved.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
The paper provides statistical evidence that changes in soil carbon,
associated with changes in crop rotation and tillage intensity, can be
estimated over large regions.
How did you become involved in this research and were
any particular problems encountered along the way?
The project began under the Dept. of Energy Consortium for Carbon
Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems, and was conducted in order to
compare and contrast experimental results related to changes in cropland
The primary problem encountered was that the analysis required long-term
field experiments. While long-term experiments existed, many of the
experiments were not developed to track changes in soil carbon and soil
carbon was not measured on a regular basis. Because of inconsistent
measurements, obtaining a timeline of soil carbon change following changes
in management was only possible when combining data from all existing
Where do you see your research leading in the near
Accounting for changes in soil carbon has led to carbon accounting for many
different components in agricultural management, and also carbon accounting
outside of terrestrial ecosystems. There is a need to integrate carbon
accounting methods across time and space scales in order to quantify
national carbon dynamics in a manner that enables us to understand and
manage sources and sinks of carbon.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
Social implications currently result from the adoption of carbon
sequestration or carbon emission reduction practices. These practices are
already taking place. Policies to increase soil carbon and to monitor,
record, and verify changes in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide are
currently being negotiated on a regular basis.
Tristram O. West, Ph.D.
Carbon-Climate Simulation Science Group
Environmental Sciences Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN, USA