Soil carbon: Key to cutting emissions?

ONLINE MEDIA BRIEFING: Thurs 24 June, 10:30 am (NZT)

soilDid you know that there’s more carbon in the dirt beneath our feet than in the air above our heads?

Soils hold at least twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and they also store more carbon than the world’s forests and other vegetation combined.

Although soil carbon has been largely ignored in the public discussion of carbon credits and emissions trading, scientists say it shouldn’t be overlooked. Efforts to increase soil carbon can not only reduce emissions, but improve soil quality and agricultural production as well.

In this media background briefing, scientists from the newly-launched New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre will answer:

  • What is soil carbon?
  • What is its relationship to soil health and agricultural productivity?
  • What kind of natural variations exist across different landscapes?
  • How do human activities affect soil carbon?
  • What is New Zealand’s unique situation?
  • Why should we care about it?
  • What role is soil carbon likely to play in emissions trading schemes in different parts of the world?


[audio:] [audio:]

Click on the players above to hear an audio recording of the briefing.

Registered journalists may also download presenters’ slides from the SMC Resource Library.


Dr David Whitehead, Principal Investigator – Soil Carbon Research, NZAGRC; Landcare Research

David leads a research programme with a focus on measuring, modelling and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from terrestrial systems at Landcare Research and he is based at Lincoln. David is also a Principal Investigator for soil carbon research in the newly formed New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. David has co-authored more than 130 scientific research papers, he has mentored Post Doctoral Fellows and PhD students and he received a certificate acknowledging his contribution to the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 awarded to the IPCC.

Dr Brent Clothier, ScienceGroup Leader – Systems Modelling, Plant & Food Research

Brent Clothier has a BSc (Hons) (1974) from Canterbury University, and a PhD (1977) and DSc (2002) in soil science from Massey University.  Brent is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, as well as a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, the American Agronomy Society, the New Zealand Soil Science Society, and the American Geophysical Union.  Brent is President of the New Zealand Soil Science Society, and he is the science leader of New Zealand’s comprehensive soils programme SLURI – Sustainable Land Use Research Initiative.

Dr Louis Schipper, Associate Professor, Earth & Ocean Sciences, Waikato University

Louis Schipper teaches soil science at the University of Waikato and conducts research into long-term changes in soil carbon and nitrogen. He is focused on trying to develop strategies that improve environmental performance while  maintaining productive uses of land. He works closely with a range of CRIs and in the NZAGRC on soil related research.  In the last two years, he was elected a fellow of the New Zealand and US Soil Science Societies. He is currently supervising 5 PhD students.

Dr Frank Kelliher, Principal Investigator – Soil Carbon, NZAGRC; Principal Scientist, AgResearch

Frank Kelliher is Principal Scientist at AgResearch and Professor of Soil Science, Lincoln University.  Over 25 years, his research has developed understanding of greenhouse gas emissions and measurement methods.  He has contributed significantly to the development of New Zealand’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions inventories and inventory uncertainty assessment.   Frank is Chair of the soil carbon network, CarbonNet.

For more information, please contact the SMC on (04) 499 5476 or