Kenyon Farm Summer Sustainability Scholar Project

Ruth Heindel, Dorothy & Thomas Jegla Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies

Globally, soils contain more carbon than the atmosphere and biosphere combined. If managed properly, this large pool of soil carbon has the potential to mitigate atmospheric CO 2 emissions. The ability of soils to act as a carbon sink has been greatly reduced by land use changes such as deforestation, wetland drainage, and the conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural cropland. Both the restoration of degraded lands and the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices can improve the ability of soils to sequester carbon, but local rates of carbon sequestration can be hard to predict and are known to vary by soil texture and chemistry, hydrology, depth in the soil profile, and vegetation type. To better quantify the rate of carbon sequestration in soils, local measurements across a wide range of land management practices are necessary.

The lands surrounding Kenyon, including land managed by the Philander Chase Conservancy, the Brown Family Environmental Center, the Kenyon Farm and other local farms, provide an opportunity to study the impact of land management on soil carbon pools. Within this small area, land uses range from traditional row crop agriculture, to newly adopted sustainable agriculture, to restored prairie and forest. Each land management practice may result in different rates of soil carbon sequestration that may vary with abiotic and biotic factors. Current land management policies at Kenyon would benefit greatly from a detailed inventory of soil carbon pools across land uses and an understanding of how these pools are changing over time.

The student selected for this project would work closely with Professor Ruth Heindel to sample and analyze soils from local sites, including the Kenyon Farm, the Laymon Farm on Jacobs Road (a local farm that recently adopted sustainable practices), restored prairie, and other lands actively managed by Kenyon. Over a 10-week period, the Kenyon Sustainability Scholar would visit local sites, collect soil samples, and analyze those samples in the laboratory for soil organic carbon, available nutrients, and soil physical properties. Research conducted over the summer would result in a report presented to local land managers and other interested community members.