Sustained droughts are making farming near impossible in Tanzania. The soil is to dry for planting. The organization Justdiggit wants to alleviate the situation by planting trees in a way that encourages moisture collection. Not only do the trees grow better, the soil is can recover in their shade.
As more of the world’s forests are destroyed, it makes you wonder: what’s going to absorb CO2 in their place?! In an ironic twist of fate, one of Earth’s “deadest” habitats might be our best hope for an ongoing supply of breathable air.
Called peatlands, these wetland environments are named for their tendency to accumulate decayed plant matter. Unlike most other ecosystems, like forests, where branches and leaves typically decompose in a matter of months… in peatlands, that plant material can stay intact for millenia. You see, peatlands mostly exist in high altitude places where temps are low and there’s not much water flow. This results in their having extremely low oxygen and high acidity levels.
These harsh conditions aren’t very hospitable to microbes and fungi, which are instrumental to the whole decomposition process. So without them around, the plant material sort of… just sits. Over time, that it globs together to form peat, a thick, spongy material that can soak up 20x its weight in water. Peat also soaks up loads of carbon. Through a process known as the Calvin cycle, living plants absorb CO2 from the air and convert it into organic molecules that they can then use as energy to grow.
Through decomposition, the carbon that’s “fixed” in a plant’s structure gets released but since peat doesn’t decompose, that carbon can stay put! It’s estimated that peatlands contain 550 gigatonnes of organic carbon, which is twice as much organic carbon as all the world’s forests combined. That’s absolutely wild, considering that forests cover about 30% of the world’s land area… and peatlands only account for 3%! Like most of the world’s habitats, peatlands aren’t immune to the threats of human development and exploitation.
Peat is also are a very in-demand resource. Its incredible water holding capacity makes it a favorite amongst horticulturists; If you’ve ever picked up a bag of soil amendment, chances are it’s full of the stuff. Since peat is also a fossil fuel with a long burn, it’s used in some parts of the world. Peatlands are also often drained to accommodate other land use activities, like agriculture.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are perfect for speed. Every year, cars and motorcycles break land speed records on the flat expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s been a tradition for more than a century, and racers have built a thriving community around the salt races. But how did these salt flats form, and why are they disappearing now?
Clean drinking water is vital – but for many people, accessing it is difficult and expensive. A pastor in an Indonesian village encourages people to make use of a dependable water supply that comes free of charge: rainwater.
Humanity faces major challenges. Could roots hold the answers? It’s possible: Research shows that roots have the potential to provide food for the world’s population, stop climate change and help extract resources in an environmentally friendly way. Plants must withstand periods of drought and heat, as well as flooding, and they use their roots to do this. Roots also help them actively search for nutrients in the soil, while warding off dangers such as pathogens and toxins.
Now, scientists at the research institute Forschungszentrum Jülich are investigating root growth using high-tech methods. The goal is to breed stress-resistant seeds for plants with robust roots. They are not alone: In Sweden, Professor Linda Maria Mårtensson is conducting research on a perennial wheat variety that will ensure higher yields while protecting the soil. Along the world’s coasts, too, roots are a lifesaver.
Coastal ecologist Professor Tjeerd Bouma has discovered that if special grasses are planted in front of dikes, they create a salt marsh that acts as a natural breakwater. Meanwhile, geochemist Dr. Oliver Wiche of the Technical University of Freiberg is researching something known as “phytomining.” He wants to know which plants are best suited for mining metals from the soil. Could this root research give rise to a new, environmentally friendly branch of industry?
Development banks and states pledged a total of $14.32 billion over the next four years to build a “Great Green Wall” to help contain desertification in Africa’s northern Sahel region. But what exactly is it and how much progress has been made?
The Great Green Wall or Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel is Africa’s flagship initiative to combat the increasing desertification. Led by the African Union, the initiative aims to transform the lives of millions of people by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa.