August 31, 2009

In the Prairie Grass Tavern...

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... don't wade in over your head.

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10 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Splendor in the grass at Chez Althouse after a full day's blogging. Good night you all.

Chase said...

Paging Mr. Chip Ahoy! Mr. Chip Ahoy!

Bissage said...

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SNAKES!1!!!!!1!!!!!!

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Windbag said...

What does that say about a person whose first thought is, "I wonder how long it'd take to mow that"?

rhhardin said...

Prairie dog.

Joaquin said...

Windbag, did you say mow? MOW!!!!
Dude, you need a thresher or a scythe!

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

What a great stand of Big Bluestem. As recently as about four generations ago that grass and its allies extended across about 140 million acres of the US Midwest, and the root mass was phenomenal.

As the region was settled, more and more was ploughed, though as long as farms were powered mostly by horses a lot was left for the abundant hay and grazing it produced.

As corn-soybean agriculture began to dominate, not only were the stands of native prairie destroyed, but as the soils they once protected were increasingly overworked, the organic matter in them began to break down rather rapidly.

If only half the soil organic matter was oxidised by destruction of the native prairie, the carbon release would be enough to have increased atmospheric CO2 levels by phenomenal amounts.

There were at least 300 tons of CO2 tied up -- per acre -- in the top foot of prairie soils. Most of that is now gone. Where? Roughly speaking, 33,000 acres of destroyed prairie would release enough CO2 to increase atmospheric levels by 1 ppm.***

Since there were 140 million acres in the US alone it obviously did not all stay in the atmosphere. The dynamics of that process, and the destination of that carbon are maybe something we collectively ought to understand much better than we do.

My training as a geologist leads me to great skepticism regarding the proposition of human-caused global warming. My background in soil chemistry, however, suggests that we need to examine world-wide prairie loss as potential one-off source of immense CO2 release.

That it coincided with growing industrial activity most certainly confuses the issue, but it's definitely worth trying to sort out.

What I do know for sure is that there were 300 to 500 species per acre on the native tallgrass prairie, of which Big Blue was but one.

We've replaced then with about five species per acre, and that does not seem like an improvement.




*** Back of the envelope assumptions used:
atmosphere weighs 5.6 T tons; 1 ppm is therefore 5.6 M tons; top foot of prairie soils weighs 2 K T per acre; 10% organic matter; OM is 50% carbon; CO2 weighs about 3x the carbon.

rhhardin said...

Most of the carbon is in a tall and growing grass cutting pile in my back woods.

rhhardin said...

Grass pile, about ten feet high.

I added 16 cu ft to it today.

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