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Carbon Footprints of Turfgrasses - How do we approve them?

Article contains terms, results, and products that are targeted to home owners. Article contains terms, results, and products that are targeted to turf professionals. Article contains terms, results, and products that are targeted to turf students.
Tom Rufty
Aug 11, 2010

Climate change is fast becoming one of the most important issues of our time. Not to dismiss the political discussions going on across the U.S., but a recent analysis of public opinion sponsored by the National Science Foundation indicates that 75 percent of the American public believes the earth’s climate is warming and human activities are responsible (1). The Stanford University study also found that about the same percentage of Americans think the United States government should be passing regulations limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing the problem and moving towards energy savings and green technologies. No one can predict how fast the political process will respond but because of our dependence on the fossil fuels, oil and coal, it’s fair to say that significant changes are coming.


The earth is in an inter-glacial period when cooling would be expected, yet temperatures are increasing (2). Scientists estimate that with current trends, temperature increases of at least seven to 12 degrees Fahrenheit seem likely over the next 50 to 100 years, which will increase sea levels and change weather patterns in unpredictable ways. The heightened awareness of the American public leads to many asking the question- ‘How can we help control carbon dioxide(CO2) emissions and do our part to prevent climate change?’    


Most strategies being proposed to mitigate global climate change include increasing carbon storage in plant systems (3). This is often referred to as ‘terrestrial carbon sequestration’. If large amounts of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and then held in stable plant material or soil organic matter, it could help offset CO2 generated by fossil fuel use.


The potential benefit of carbon sequestration provides an opportunity for the turfgrass industry to become involved in efforts to control global warming. Turfgrasses comprise 16.4 million hectares in the U.S., the largest irrigated agricultural crop. In addition to offsetting CO2 generation, carbon storage may be of monetary value. A carbon credit/trading market is beginning to develop.     


One of the challenges for university scientists is to come up with accurate estimates for amounts of carbon that can be sequestered under turfgrasses. In this study we are examining carbon storage under different turfgrass species receiving differing inputs. It can act as a guide for how to maximize soil carbon levels. Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and fescue are receiving low or high amounts of fertilizer and pesticides.




1. Krosnick J. 2009 The Climate Majority, NY Times op-ed June 8, 2009. Refer to woods.stanford.edu

2. Hansen J. 2009. Storms of My Grandchildren. Bloomsbury publishers, 304 pp. ISBN 978-1-60819-200-7

3. www.fossil.energy.gov

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