Impending risks associated with climate change have forced the global community to devise tradable pollution permit or “cap and trade” approaches to control the release of greenhouse gases. In the U.S, soils have the potential to offset about 10 percent of annual CO2 emissions; however, if carbon credits are to be included in greenhouse gas control programs, soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration rates associated with agricultural land uses must be computed at a watershed scale. The Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) water quality model, the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) erosion model, and the CENTURY 4.0 a soil carbon model were used to simulate carbon sequestration rates for 160 crop-tillage rotations in 272 sub-basins of the Big Creek watershed (∼12,300hectares). Under annual crops, only no-till in a corn-soybean rotation, on low to moderate slopes results in net gains in SOC. Substantial annual rates of SOC sequestration occur only under perennial crops such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP; 0.14t/ha without erosion; 0.08 with erosion), pasture (0.67t/ha without erosion; 0.58 with erosion), hay (0.88t/ha without erosion; 0.52 with erosion), and forest (2.66t/ha without erosion; 2.49 with erosion). Erosion thus has a large effect on the spatial distribution of field-measured SOC by moving it down slope and increasing its spatial variability. Because of this, carbon credit programs should be based on field practices, thus targeting the locations where the sequestration of atmospheric carbon actually occurs and minimizing monitoring costs. Developing model-based estimates of SOC sequestration rates of field practices at many locations would thus greatly serve the needs of carbon crediting programs.

Modeling watershed-scale sequestration of soil organic carbon for carbon credit programs. Available from: [accessed Oct 20, 2015].