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New Research Supports California's Effort to Curb Greenhouse Gases Using Soils Management

   27 August 2018

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the release of new science and planning tools to support California’s continued leadership on actions to address climate change and safeguard the state’s people, economy and resources.

The compilation of original climate research known as California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment includes 44 technical reports and 13 summary reports on climate change impacts to help ready the state for a future punctuated by severe wildfires, more frequent and longer droughts, rising sea levels, increased flooding, coastal erosion and extreme heat events. This new body of work translates global models into scaled-down, regionally-relevant reports to fill information gaps and support decisions at the local, regional and state levels.

Cows in Coyote Ridge, Santa Clara Valley, Calif. Photo Credit: Stuart B. Weiss

Rangelands include land on which vegetation is predominantly grasses, grass-like plants, forbs or shrubs and include natural grasslands, oak-tree savannas, shrub lands, many deserts, alpine communities, marshes and meadows. Pictured: Coyote Ridge, Santa Clara Valley, Calif. Photo Credit: Stuart B. Weiss.

California has completed three prior Climate Change Assessments. Since the release of California’s Third Climate Change Assessment in 2012, the state has experienced several of the most extreme natural events in its recorded history, including a severe five-year drought, an unprecedented tree mortality crisis, damaging floods driven by atmospheric rivers, and increasingly large and destructive wildfires.

The Fourth Assessment suggests these events will worsen in the future and offers various adaptation measures for consideration. Among the key findings are those in one of the summary reports by Lorraine Flint and others from the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with U.C. Berkeley, the Carbon Cycle Institute, and The Nature Conservancy. Scientists studied how increasing the organic carbon content in soil in California’s rangelands and croplands can sequester greenhouse gases and increase hydrologic resiliency to climate change:

  • A one-time, one-quarter inch application of compost to rangelands can lead to carbon sequestration rates in soils that are maximized after about 15 years, and more than offset greenhouse gas emissions stimulated by the compost amendment for at least five decades longer.
  • Scientists modeled what an increase of total soil organic matter of 3% would yield and found enhanced hydrologic benefits across 97% of working lands including: reducing climate change impacts by increasing recharge, decreasing peak runoff, increasing forage production, and decreasing landscape stress.
  • Economic assessments of increasing soil organic matter showed fiscal benefits increasing over time. The study demonstrated a large potential for the California carbon market to support policy incentives for strategic soil management at a regional scale.
  • Results and tools designed from this study can be used by managers and decision-makers to reduce the hydrologic risks associated with converting rangeland to urban landscapes, or to more greenhouse-gas emission intensive agriculture.
  • Counties in California can be identified where land-use change scenarios, soil organic matter enhancement, and combined strategic soil management and land conservation can provide resilience to the effects of climate change.

To access Fourth Assessment technical reports, summary reports, online tools, climate projects and data, and other resources and information developed as part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, please visit

California is a global leader in using, investing in, and advancing research to set proactive climate change policy. Its climate change assessments provide the scientific foundation for understanding climate-related vulnerability and how Californians may respond. The Climate Change Assessments directly inform State policies, plans, programs, and guidance to promote effective and integrated action to safeguard California from climate change.

California – which is playing a world-leading role in building strong coalitions of partners committed to curbing carbon pollution in both the United States and around the globe – will convene the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco next month. At the Summit, representatives from subnational governments, businesses and civil society will showcase the surge of climate action around the world, and make the case that even more must be done.

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