How Does Soil Pull Carbon out of the Atmosphere?

Logan Hailey
10 min readMay 12, 2021

Amidst concerns about catastrophic climate change, carbon sequestration is all the rage these days. Carbon sequestration is basically the process of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it natural reservoirs such as soil. Below ground, soil a counts for about 46% of total terrestrial carbon sequestration. How does it work?

The Simple Answer: Microbes Lock It Up

The simple answer is: microbes absorb the carbon and hold it. The process starts with photosynthesis, when plants “inhale” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make sugars.

Then, they send 30–40% of their hard-earned sugars down into the soil as offerings their microbial allies. They literally give it away because those microbes are so valuable and vital to them, but more on that later.

The microbes (mainly soil fungi, and to a lesser extent, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes) take the carbon and “lock it up” in the form of recalcitrant organic matter or they store it within their bodies, mainly in fungal networks.

Through this ancient natural process, carbon is pulled from the atmosphere and stored away in the soil. That is, until a human comes along and disturbs or tills that soil and releases the carbon back into the air again.

If you want to understand a few more details about this process (in plain language), read on.

Image courtesy of Dirt to Dinner

Paying Farmers to Fight Climate Change?

Soil is finally making headlines these days and I’ve got to say, any ecological farmer or soil scientists is happy to see people starting to care about the humble Earth beneath their feet.

The problem is that the mainstream public has very little understanding of soil. People are quick to praise the idea of paying farmers to fight climate change (this is the key marketing point of both “regenerative farming” and the related “climate farming” or “carbon farming”).

The Biden Administration has proposed farm-based carbon credits as a way to encourage reduced carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration on agricultural land.

Only problem? Scientists haven’t quite mastered a reliable method for measuring…

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Logan Hailey

Vivacious nomad writer with a wild spark. Helping you optimize your wellness + mindset for the most joyful, natural, and healthy life possible.