Saturday, February 18, 2006

Scientific mystery of terra preta closer to being solved

The scientific mystery of the Amazonian anthropogenic dark earth (anthrosols) referred to variously in Portuguese as Terra Mulata and Terra Preta do Indio (Indian Dark Earth) is closer to being solved. The intricate recipe used for producing these fertile soils has been the object of longstanding scientific curiosity.

An important factor, highlighted in the latest news release on the subject, is the use of slash-and-char techniques versus slash-and-burn:

Whereas slash-and-burn methods use open fires to reduce biomass to ash, slash-and-char uses low-intensity smoldering fires covered with dirt and straw, for example, which partially exclude oxygen.

[Update: Back40 (Muck and Mystery) pulls in some quite interesting notes and comments on soil+char.]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel we should push for this Terra Preta Soils CO2 sequestration strategy and only go for weather modification if we fall over any of the serious tipping points.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade in place:

There are processes that you can have your Bio-fuel and fertility too.

'Terra Preta' soils I feel has great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.
I thought, I first read about these soils in " Botany of Desire " or "Guns,Germs,&Steel" but I could not find reference to them. I finely found the reference in "1491", but I did not realize their potential .

Current issue of Nature article: ... 2624a.html

Here's the Cornell page for an over view: ... r_home.htm

This Science Forum thread on thes soil contains further links: ... eta-9.html

The Georgia Inst. of Technology page:

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

Also, Terra Preta was on the Agenda at this years world Soil Science Conference ! ... P16274.HTM

I've sent this thread to the researchers at M-Roots, who make Mycorisal fungus inoculations for acceleration of the reestablishment of the symbiotic fungal / root relationship. Here's the M-Roots site:

I also sent it to Dr. Jared Diamond, if he replies, I will probably have an orgasm!

Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 , Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.

Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management ... coal.shtml

If pre Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 20% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of EROEI for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

I would like to investigate if use of an M-Roots type fungus inoculant and local compost would speed this super community of wee beasties in populating into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies since Tobacco.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society. As inversely Tobacco, over time has gotten back at same society by killing more of us than the entire pre-Columbian population.


Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
(540) 289-9750