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Soil health -- management


The concept of soil health is increasingly being used as an indicator for sustainable soil management and even includes legislative actions. Current applications of soil health often lack geospatial and monetary analyses of damages (e.g., land development), which can degrade soil health through loss of carbon (C) and productive soils. This study aims to evaluate the damages to soil health (e.g., soil C, the primary soil health indicator) attributed to land developments within the state of Illinois (IL) in the United States of America (USA). All land developments in IL can be associated with damages to soil health, with 13,361.0 km2 developed, resulting in midpoint losses of 2.5 × 1011 of total soil carbon (TSC) and a midpoint social cost of carbon dioxide emissions (SC-CO2) of $41.8B (where B = billion = 109, USD). More recently developed land area (721.8 km2) between 2001 and 2016 likely caused the midpoint loss of 1.6 × 1010 kg of TSC and a corresponding midpoint of $2.7B in SC-CO2. New developments occurred adjacent to current urban areas near the capital cities of Springfield, Chicago, and St. Louis (the border city between the states of Missouri and IL). Results of this study reveal several types of damage to soil health from developments: soil C loss, associated “realized” soil C social costs (SC-CO2), and loss of soil C sequestration potential from developments. The innovation of this study has several aspects. Geospatial analysis of land cover combined with corresponding soil types can identify changes in the soil health continuum at the landscape level. Because soil C is a primary soil health indicator, land conversions caused by developments reduce soil health and the availability of productive soils for agriculture, forestry, and C sequestration. Current IL soil health legislation can benefit from this landscape level data on soil C loss with GHG emissions and associated SC-CO2 costs by providing insight into the soil health continuum and its dynamics. These techniques and data can also be used to expand IL’s GHG emissions reduction efforts from being solely focused on the energy sector to include soil-based emissions from developments. Current soil health legislation does not recognize that soil’s health is harmed by disturbance from land developments and that this disturbance results in GHG emissions. Soil health programs could be broadened to encourage less disturbance of soil types that release high levels of GHG and set binding targets based on losses in the soil health continuum.


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