Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

Soil Carbon Accrual Project

the research team at Palo VerdeLed by CRARS, the Soil Carbon Accrual Project is a collaboration of more than 10 scientists from two continents coming together to measure the effect of regenerative agriculture on soil carbon in multiple locations over multiple years using flux tower technology. Despite considerable evidence that soil, when well managed, can be a significant carbon sink, conventional methods of measuring soil carbon only capture single measurements at any one time, leading to what seems to be misleading impressions that the soil respires as much CO₂ as it captures. 

Flux towers measure the flow of CO₂ continuously (both respiration and accrual). Data from the flux towers and new soil probe technology will be correlated with data from satellite soil carbon estimates and conventional laboratory analysis of soil core samples. The intention is to get a comprehensive technical view and verify which technical measurements are most accurate and efficient. It will also provide an opportunity to evaluate the level of significance soil carbon accretion can play in mitigating GHG levels with much more certainty, thus providing scientists, farmers and policy makers with clear information to use to choose the most effective paths forward to address climate change.

The 3-5 year project is designed to holistically compare carbon cycling associated with the standard system (full tillage; herbicide; fertilizers; pesticides and no cover) to  a regenerative system (multispecies cover crops; no-till or strip-till/vertical till; and crop rotations) in a robust replicated plot design to quantify the impacts on soil carbon accrual (net carbon flux), soil microbial diversity, water use efficiency, soil health, forage nutrient density, and economic return.

In the past, coordinated deployment of multiple flux towers (also known as eddy covariance (EC) towers) has been cost-prohibitive. The current project will leverage new lower-lost EC technology to replicate EC data collection across a range of agroecosystems representative of the major growing regions of the United States and other places in the world.

Update: November 2022

The first flux towers are now in place at the Blythe test site.

flux tower at Blythe

flux tower at night, location 1
flux tower at night, second location
Flux tower during the day, 1st location
flux tower during the day, 2nd location