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Can Soil Actually Capture Carbon? Maybe Not

Ever clean your room by shoving everything under the bed? What if we could do this with all the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere—just shove it in the ground? Well, some people are actually already trying this and have poured millions of dollars, research, and time into this strategy, known as soil sequestration.

The thinking goes that soil can lock carbon underground and help with the climate crisis. But much like how messes don’t disappear when shoved into your closet, soil carbon may not stick around in the ways we had previously thought. In fact, our entire understanding of how carbon dioxide stays in the soil may need some MAJOR reworking.

To be clear: We do know that carbon can stick around in soil for centuries or even millennia. But let’s rewind a sec—if we wanna store carbon in the soil, we first need to understand what that thin layer of material covering Earth is actually made of. At its most basic, soil is made up of minerals, air, water, and organic matter like leaves. Organisms feast on this organic matter, breaking it down and releasing carbon dioxide, or CO2, into the air. With one major exception: humus.

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