Biodiversity 5: Mastering the Carbon Cycle

Fall 2021, Wednesdays, October 6th – December 22nd

Photo by Karl Anderson

Biodiversity 5: Cooling the Climate by Mastering the Carbon Cycle

12 weekly classes with our staff scientist, Jim Laurie. He will hold two sessions every Wednesday, from 12 – 2 pm ET and 7 – 9 pm ET to accommodate students’ different schedules.

The Excitement and Inspiration of Science for the Curious to the Serious and everyone in-between. A fully interactive online adventure with discussions, experiments and explorations for independent thinkers of any age, suitable for high school and college students, as well as inquiring minds of all levels, from beginner to PhD!

Course Description

In this fifth course in the Biodiversity series, we will take on the challenge of maximizing photosynthesis in forests, grasslands, and oceans.

We begin the course by exploring how a healthy forest works.  The class will read Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard.  In this autobiography, published a few months ago, Simard describes her curiosity and love for the forests of British Columbia where she grew up.  Her discoveries show a very complex symbiosis and nutrient trading system between the forest tree and the mycorrhizal fungi below the surface; a wood wide web. In our previous course, Biodiversity #4, we learned how intelligent processes in the fungi networks make forests possible.  Simard’s book shows how this was figured out from the forest perspective.  

We will also read Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil It is also autobiographical as Brown describes his mistakes as well as successes on a 600 acre farm in North Dakota.  Gabe eliminated bare ground with cover crops and eventually added grazing to his toolbox.  His soils have been able to capture several tons of carbon per acre per year despite having a short growing season with only 16 inches of rainfall.  His ideas can be helpful in many parts of the world’s croplands and grasslands. 

This course will continue to look at case studies of Ocean Restoration of Kelp Forests, Mangroves, Corals, Seagrasses, Spartina Marshes, etc.  As sea levels rise in the coming decades, we can build expensive walls, or we could move our cities inland and create “Living Shorelines.”  Many of our classmates have been reading Rachel Carson’s Edge of the Sea, which has wonderful descriptions of the life cycles of the Kelps, Algaes, Corals, and the many Invertebrates in the ocean. 

Photosynthesis captures about 15 times the amount of carbon that is burned as fossil fuels by the human economy every year.  Learning about photosynthesis, the most productive process on the planet, can show us the many opportunities that are created as more degraded lands are brought under Holistic Management. 

Photosynthesis makes the glucose sugars in plants that serve as the building blocks for cellulose and chitin, which give structure to plants, fungi, and animals.  These sugars also store energy in starches to feed us. 

We have lost about half of the biomass (living things) on the planet’s degraded lands in the last 10,000 years since the Ice Ages, and it is no wonder that we have too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Bringing back deep rooted perennial grasslands on the billions of acres of bare ground we now call “deserts” would put much of our atmospheric carbon excess back into soils. 

Finding and protecting the Mother Trees and Mycorrhizal Fungi in the Forests would accumulate even more carbon in the soils in the form of stable glomalin and humus molecules.  Eliminating bare ground in our crop lands with deep rooted cover crops and better infiltration of rainwater can be another carbon cycle sink.  These ideas are the focus of Biodiversity 5.

Whether this is your first or fifth course, please join us if you are curious about nature and its power to restore ecosystems to abundance.  The veterans of previous classes will help you catch up in your learning.  We are developing into a “Symbiosis Team” to ameliorate or reverse the impacts of Global Warming.  Everyone has much to learn and share and there is much to be done.  We need and appreciate your enthusiasm on the team.