Possible strategies to global CO2 issues are being proposed, discussed and researched (1, 2, 3). One method being considered to maintain or reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is to remove and inject it into natural reservoirs not in contact with the atmosphere.

Turfgrasses, Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming, part two of two

Possible strategies to global CO2 issues are being proposed, discussed and researched (1, 2, 3). One method being considered to maintain or reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is to remove and inject it into natural reservoirs not in contact with the atmosphere. These include deep geological formations or the oceans. Production from some oil and natural gas reservoirs can be enhanced by pumping CO2 gas into the reservoir to push out the product. The United States leads the world in enhanced oil recovery technology (4). Approximately 32 million tons of CO2 are used for this purpose each year (4). Liquid CO2 could be pumped to an ocean depth of 3,200 feet or more, where the gas is denser than sea water (5). Estimates of the amount of CO2 (Gigatons of C, where 1 Gigaton = 1 billion metric tons of C equivalent) that could be stored in reservoirs in order of magnitude are: oceans, 1,000s; deep saline formations, 100s to 1,000s; depleted oil and gas reserves, 100s; coal seams, 10s to 100s; and terrestrial, 10s (5).

More than 49 million acres of urban land in the United States are covered by turfgrasses (6). After absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, turfgrasses produce, or synthesize, a number of sugars that can be transported to, and eventually become a part of, plant roots. Sequestered C in turfgrass soils is often a combination of decomposing roots and shoots that have been mixed with soil.

Research indicates that turfgrasses may sequester up to 800 pounds of atmospheric C per acre per year (7). Based on this estimate, urban turfgrasses in the United States could remove about 20 million tons of C from the atmosphere annually (8).

Researchers Ronald F. Follett (USDA-ARS Soil-Plant-Nutrient Research Unit, Fort Collins, Colo.) and Yaling L. Qian (Dep. of Hortic. and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.) are studying the impact of turfgrasses on C levels in soil. They report that, in Colorado, four years after turf establishment, about 14 to 16 percent of the soil organic C (SOC) at a depth from 0 to 4 inches, and 7 to 11 percent of the SOC at a depth of 4 to 8 inches, came from turfgrasses (7). Fine fescue and creeping bentgrass sequestered more C than Kentucky bluegrass (7). In a previous study of 15 golf courses near Denver and Fort Collins, Colo., and one golf course near Saratoga, Wyo., research results show that, after turfgrasses are established, C sequestration continues for up to 31 years in fairways and 45 years in putting greens (9). Most rapid SOC increases take place during the first 25 to 30 years (9).

Trade-in, greenhouse gas “offsets” paid by companies and individuals worldwide may total more than $100 million per year (10). The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute suggests that homeowners managing lawns may not need to look any further for a C offset than their own back yard (11). According to a research report by Ranajit Sahu, turfgrass in an average-managed lawn removes four times more C from the air, and a well-managed lawn, five to seven times more C from the air, than is produced by today’s typical lawn mower (12).

Perhaps the efforts of golf course superintendents, homeowners, landscapers, lawn care professionals, parks and recreation department employees and sports turf managers to improve the overall quality of turf are more beneficial and important than ever before.


Thomas J. Samples is a professor in the Plant Sciences department at The University of Tennessee, and is the turfgrass specialist of the Tennessee Extension Service.He obtained a bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University and MS and Ph.D. degrees from Oklahoma State University.



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2. Anonymous. 2007. Cold storage solution for global warming? Carbon dioxide could be frozen in underground reservoirs. ScienceNews. February. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070207090926.htm.

3. Luoma, J. 2008. Greenhouse graveyard: New progress for big global warming fix. Popular Mechanics. July. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/earth/4267140.html?series=15.

4. Anonymous. 2008. Geologic sequestration research. Fossil energy. U. S. Dept. of Energy. http://www.fe.doe.gov/programs/sequestration/geologic/index.html.

5. Anonymous. 2003. Watching brief: Ocean carbon sequestration. Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission of UNESCO. Scientific Committee on Ocean Research. http://ioc.unesco.org/iocweb/co2panel/Sequestration.htm. 

6. Kent, S., G. Morris, K. McConnaughay and S. Morris. 2007. Carbon sequestration in urban turf soils. ASA, CSSA and SSA International Annual Meetings. 98-8.

7. Qian, Y. and R. Follett. 2008. Soil organic carbon input from urban turfgrasses. 2008 Joint Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM. 68-2.

8. Bremer, D. 2007. Carbon sequestration in turfgrass: An eco-friendly benefit of your lawn. TurfNews. Kansas Turfgrass Foundation Newsletter, October.

9. Qian, Y. and R. F. Follett. 2002. Assessing soil carbon sequestration in turfgrass systems using long-term soil testing data. American Society of Agronomy. Agron. J.: 94:930-935.

10. Revkin, A.C. 2007. Carbon neutral is hip, but is it green? New York Times. April 29.

11. Kiser, K. 2008. For carbon offset, look no further than your own backyard. Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. http://www.opei.org/carbonreport/article.asp.

12. Sahu, R. 2008. Research report: Technical assessment of the carbon sequestration potential of managed turfgrass in the United States. Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, Inc. http://www.opei.org/carbonreport/FullCarbonReport.pdf.