Cattails and Tules Perform Double Duty as Soil Rebuilders and Carbon Scrubbers

cattails photo

Image from Jeff Kubina

Remember this term: carbon-capture farming. While it may not yet have received much attention, this practice, which would consist of paying delta farmers to plant carbon-sequestering crops, could soon become a big business.

That's the conclusion reached by a team of researchers from the USGS and UC Davis, who just completed a 15-year study examining the potential of tules and cattails to help sequester greenhouse gases and rebuild sinking islands in the Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta.

tules photo

Image from Dvortygirl
Preventing another potential levee collapse
The project was originally started as a small-scale trial to see if plants like cattails and tules could help rebuild the region's sinking delta islands, which have become dangerously vulnerable to flooding in recent decades. A levee collapse would bring in large amounts of saltwater from San Francisco Bay and cause tremendous damage to the state's delta systems.

Cattails and tules: effective carbon "scrubbers"
The scientists quickly discovered that the plants were helping to build up the soil by forming peat when they died and decomposed. Not only did this help rebuild the islands, but the scientists also found the cattails and tules to be extremely effective at capturing carbon dioxide.

New grant will examine potential of large-scale farm
With $12.3 million in grant money from the state and federal governments, the scientists are evaluating the potential for cattail and tule plantations to form the basis of a carbon-capture farming industry, which would allow companies to more easily meet greenhouse gas limits by paying farmers to plant the crops.

Before embarking on any large-scale ventures, however, the scientists will first need to make sure that the plantations don't create a new set of problems -- the production of other greenhouse gases or dissolved organic matter, which can leach out of peat soil when exposed to water and form carcinogenic compounds, and the release of mercury.

Assuming the large-scale trial goes well, carbon-capture farming could provide a cost-efficient way to kill two birds with one stone. Since these plants can be grown fairly easily on marginal lands, we wouldn't need to worry about displacing food production, which would make the practice more environmentally and politically palatable.

Via ::Associated Press: Cattails Shown to Be Effective CO2-Eaters (news website)

More about carbon "scrubbers"
::Scientists Develop Air "Scrubber" Capable of Sucking Up One Ton of CO2 a Day
::Suck on this, CO2

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