Chapter 23

Soil and Climate Change

(book excerpts)

Climate change is global phenomena and occurring continuously since the earth came into existence. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. It’s the longer-term trend that differentiates climate change from natural weather variability. It’s worth noting that while climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably, climate change refers to more than an increase in temperature. It also includes rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, rising carbon dioxide levels, changes in weather patterns like drought and flooding, and much more. The idea that the Earth’s climate is changing is now almost universally accepted in the scientific community, and even many scientists who dispute that climate change is anthropogenic (i.e., human-induced) are in agreement that it is happening. Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 800,000 years, there have been eight cycles of ice ages and warmer periods, with the end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era—and of human civilization. However, in the last 150 to 200 years changes in climate have been observed to occur at a faster rate. Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees F (0.83°C) over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees F (0.28–4.7°C) over the next hundred years. Sea level rise, upper-ocean heat content, land-based ice melt, arctic sea ice, depth of seasonal permafrost thaw, and other climate variables provide consistent evidence of a warming planet. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. Altered climate will, therefore, have an effect on soil processes and properties, and at the same time, the soils themselves will have an effect on the climate. Climate change can affect soil functions both directly and indirectly. Direct effects include temperature, precipitation, and moisture regime changes. The direct effects include changes in organic carbon transformations and nutrient cycling through altered moisture and temperature regimes in the soil and increased soil erosion rates due to an increased frequency of high‐intensity rainfall events. The indirect effects of climate change on soil functions include those that are induced by climate change adaptation options such as irrigation, crop rotation changes, and tillage practices.

Click on the following topics for more information on soil and climate change.

Topics Within This Chapter:

  • Effects of Climate Change
  • Weather versus Climate
  • Climate Change Impact on Precipitation
  • Climate Change Impact on Temperature
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events
  • Causes of Climate Change
  • Natural Drivers
  • Human Causes
  • Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Methane
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Fluorinated Gases
  • Climate Change Impact on Agriculture
  • Crop Response to Changing Climate
  • Livestock Response to Changing Climate
  • Pests Response to Climate Change
  • Effects of Climate Change on Soil
  • Soil Organic Carbon
  • Soil Flora
  • Soil Erosion
  • Soil Acidification and Salinization
  • Soil Fertility and Nutrient Availability
  • Soil Carbon Sequestration
  • Scientific Debate
  • Carbon-Storage Potential of Agricultural Soils
  • Carbon-Storage Potential of Agricultural Practices
  • Carbon Storage Over Time
  • Carbon Sequestration Cost
  • Soil Carbon Saturation
  • Carbon Farming
  • Challenges for Carbon Sequestration
  • What is Regenerative Agriculture?
  • Pillars of Regenerative Agriculture
  • Conservation Tillage
  • Diversity
  • Rotation and Cover Crops
  • Water Quality
  • Potential of Regenerative Agriculture Practices to Mitigate Climate Change