Posted in | News | Climate Change | Ecosystems

A Scientific Approach to Nature-Based Climate Solutions

A report co-authored by leading ecosystem scientists and policy experts, including Agricultural Engineering Professor Ben Runkle, calls for a scientific approach to nature-based climate solutions in the United States.

A report co-authored by leading ecosystem scientists and policy experts, including Agricultural Engineering Professor Ben Runkle, calls for a scientific approach to nature-based climate solutions in the United States.

Image Credit: University of Arkansas

The report is the outcome of a June gathering in Washington D.C. of dozens of researchers and policy experts to tackle the impacts of climate change and secure the scientific footing for nature-based climate solutions.

The report investigates existing knowledge on the subject and proposes a multidisciplinary plan for the science, tools, and technology required to support climate change mitigation policies.

To ensure that nature-based climate solutions are stable and reliable, thoroughly benchmarked maps, model forecasts, and protocol evaluations, the researchers are urging an investment of around $1 billion in science and infrastructure development.

Although the investment necessary to generate this information is not small, it is a fraction of the amount already allocated to implement nature-based solutions. Investing in sound science to predict, monitor, and verify the benefits of these strategies is fundamental to ensuring their success.

Ben Runkle, Professor, Agricultural Engineering, University of Arkansas

Reforestation, climate-smart agriculture, and wetland restoration are examples of natural climate solutions. To lower atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and slow climate change, they use natural processes.

The bipartisan lawmakers, the private sector, and conservation-minded organizations strongly support these strategies, but the scientific proof for their efficacy is still in its infancy.

The researchers identified major gaps in the science required to support large-scale deployments of nature-based climate solutions and proposed a research agenda to fill these gaps. They also outlined a set of criteria to guide future evaluations of the efficacy and viability of nature-based climate solutions.

Runkle’s research group concentrates on ecosystem-scale assessment as one of the many options for reaching the ultimate goal. Micrometeorological flux towers are used to measure basic atmospheric conditions. The data will allow the team to improve and expand its ground-based surveillance networks and distributed experiments.

The effort includes:

  • Creating strong datasets to test and compare models, mapping tools, and monitoring processes
  • Establishing networks of widespread field trials and experiments to assess new or understudied options for nature-based climate solutions
  • Adding more representative sites and data to current environmental observation networks
  • Establishing a countrywide network for soil carbon monitoring

Essentially we can use the many agricultural fields of Arkansas as test-beds for research under real-world management conditions. This provides a quicker and more thorough understanding of how field and farm management can be used to boost sustainability outcomes—quicker because we don’t have to work first in a greenhouse and then an experimental farm.

Ben Runkle, Professor, Agricultural Engineering, University of Arkansas 

Runkle has already begun. He recently received a $1 million award from the USDA Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative, a collaboration between USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited. The award was part of an $80 million US Department of Agriculture fund to minimize greenhouse gas emissions linked with rice cultivation.

The grant was one of 70 that the USDA announced in September as part of a $2.8 billion effort to establish Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities.

On September 16th, 2022, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack paid a visit to Isbell Farms in central Arkansas to highlight the project. For many years, Runkle has partnered with the Isbells to make rice production more sustainable and climate-friendly.


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