Although most people walk on it and don't give it a second thought, humble, trod-upon, lowly turf that often is derided for only having aesthetic value may be the answer to concerns about global warming. Its ability to capture CO2 from the air and its omnipresence in urban and suburban landscapes, elevate it to major-player status in addressing global-warming concerns.

Global warming is said to be caused by elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The theory goes like this: Light passes through carbon dioxide and heats up exposed surfaces. However, the surfaces heat up and emit infrared radiation that is trapped by the carbon dioxide, causing warming. This is similar to the warming that occurs in a greenhouse or a windows-up car in a parking lot. Here light passes through the glass, causes surfaces to heat up and emit infrared light that can't pass through the glass, and warming occurs inside the greenhouse or car.

Researchers at Colorado State University wondered whether turf is a significant player in tying up atmospheric carbon dioxide and enriching the soil with the carbon that it sequesters from the air.

Using long-term soil testing data from Colorado turf facilities, researchers revealed that turfgrass could store atmospheric carbon at the rate of approximately 1-ton carbon per hectare per year for 25 to 30 years. When you extrapolate this to a typical 5,000-square-foot home lawn, roughly 100 pounds of soil organic carbon is added every year over a 25- to 30-year period after establishment. The increased soil organic carbon in the soil also improves soil quality.

Research conducted in the 1970s at the University of Rhode Island also showed that turf replenishes organic matter of soil. From their data, they estimated that turf sod returns about 4 tons of organic matter per acre to soil each year. (Note: Don't confuse “carbon” with organic matter. Carbon is a constituent of organic matter.) This early research countered claims at the time that sod farming was a soil depleting operation.

By comparison, the Colorado researchers estimated that turf will sequester 12 to 15 million tons C per year during next 25 to 30 years; an amount comparable to the 13 million tons C per year estimated to be sequestered by conservation reserve program lands in the United States.

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