Approaching the Ever Changing Environment

by Katie Greger

The Living Systems Laboratory is a place of great sustainability. It is a place that has created a machine that is unlike any others. It works by having all of its components work together and influence each other in such a way that allows for optimal efficiency. The goal of the eco-machine is to remove pollutants from the Blackstone river/canal. It does this by drawing in water through bottom filters which starts the process of removing pollutants. It then moves into the myco-reactors where fungi are used to remove more. Then it goes into the aquatic cells where vegetation and other organisms go to work before the water from the canal goes into the canal restorer before it then gets emptied back into the canal. The eco-machine is a great design to help combat the effects of the industrial revolution. The industrial age began alongside the Blackstone canal and river where it stood alongside mills that dumped contaminants into the water. For about 200 hundred years the Blackstone canal/river experienced the onslaught of pollutants from these mills and industries. It took 200 hundred years for people to realize and do something about the contamination. We changed the environment of the canal much like how we are influencing the change in all environments in the sense of climate change.

If we look at the system in which the Living Systems Laboratory created as a model system to combat the effects of climate change there is potential to work on bettering other ecosystems. Effects of climate change can be seen world wide especially within soil composition. Healthy soil is vital to sustaining food and nutritional security, maintaining essential ecosystem functions, mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing the occurrence of extreme weather events, eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and creating sustainable development. Much like how healthy water systems are vital to its biodiversity it holds and the many uses that come from this. It is important for people to understand the need for healthy soils and in general healthy ecosystems.

Healthy soil starts with having the right amount of nutrients. Soil needs to be healthy in much of the same ways humans need to be healthy. What’s on the minds of researchers these days is the amount of carbon within the soils. Significant research is being done in the terms of soil carbon and what is happening with the amount of soil carbon. An article, Climate Change: Soil respiration releases carbon, discusses the possible effect climate change is having on soil respiration due to the warming of the earth which allows for the rate of soil respiration to increase. This means that more carbon is being released into the atmosphere. Scientists worry that global warming is increasing the rate of decomposition of carbon in the soil which in turn releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which accelerates global warming. A study was done that looked at the carbon flow in tropical forests to determine whether increased temperature had much of an effect on the rate in which soil was releasing carbon into the atmosphere. It did have an effect, but it was much smaller than what was originally thought. Most of the excess carbon was coming from leaf litter and underground sources like roots because of the higher temperatures. Although, I believe there is potential that temperate forests experience more change because they don’t experience as much constant heat as does tropical forests. Not being used to constant heat could lead to more of a dramatic change. What was missing from this article were other tests of other kinds of forests, such as temperate forests, which could help to determine the effects of global warming on soil respiration.

Although there is a potential for the continuing release of carbon into the air through soil because of the earth’s warming there are potential sustainable ways around this. If we take the eco-machine approach to our earth’s soils there maybe an alternative way to help them. There has also been some work done in the field of carbon farming. Carbon farming is a potential sustainable way to help keep the amount of organic carbon in soils.

A recent article discusses the possibility of carbon farming as a solution to the ever growing issue surrounding soil composition, Could Carbon Farming Save Our Soils? The article focuses on the knowledge given by Rattan Lal, a soil science professor and founder of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University. He describes carbon farming as a process that takes carbon dioxide from the air and essentially puts it back into the soil. This is done by using large amounts of biomass such as manure and compost which is then added back to the soil. Another example of carbon farming is the practice of no-till farming which allows the build up of organic matter to accumulate which in turn provides more nutrients to soils.

An important aspect of the eco-machine is the use of fungi. Fungi are extraordinary organisms that are found in such variety and diversity. They are useful tools in this ever changing environment. The eco-machine uses the fungi to remove pollutants from the water. Fungi are also useful for many plants. An article, Fungi: Key to tree survival in warming forest, opens with a quote, “Just like the human microbiome, plants have a micro biome. It just tends to be fungi instead of bacteria,” which was said by Catherine Gehring, a Northern Arizona University researcher. This illustrates how important diversity is and to take into consideration how other organisms operate in terms of the biodiversity that is necessary for them. It also relates well to the LSL in its support of sustainability because of its use of organisms that benefit each other. There is a possibility where fungi rich soils could help plants who are affected by climate change. The fact there are mushrooms who help the Pinyon pine trees in Arizona with drought problems leads scientists to believe there is potential hope for other species of plants and trees that could also benefit from fungi. Fungi could be a source to help with soil composition and other aspects to climate change because there is still so much unknown about the world of fungi, yet research continues to find out more. Lastly, it is important to understand what the meaning of sustainable is. To be sustainable is to be diverse. To be truly sustainable is to foster practices and systems that nurture biodiversity.


Could Carbon Farming Save Our Soils

Climate Change: Soil respiration releases carbon

Fungi: Key to tree survival in warming forest