Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a new carbon tracking technology earlier this month that could help Madison achieve its climate change mitigation goals.
With the help of the Land & Water Resources Department (LWRD) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the new carbon tracking system will monitor the amount of carbon trapped in county soils.
The initiative is part of Dane County’s goal of having net-zero carbon emissions for all county buildings and machines by 2030, which Parisi announced in September 2021. The plan was previously supported by a multimillion dollar commitment to clean fuel, utilizing renewable natural gas facilities and electric vehicles.
Additionally, Parisi partnered with Alliant Energy and SunVest Solar to transition Dane County to 100% clean electricity — reducing emissions by over 60% and becoming the first Wisconsin county with total renewable energy.
“The flooding, fires and extreme temperatures gripping the globe year after year offer irrefutable, tangible evidence we are in the midst of a climate crisis,” Parisi said in a press release in September 2021.
“We all have a responsibility to act now, and that’s just what Dane County government is doing.”
Using soil to analyze climate progress
Dane County’s accomplishments are only the beginning of reaching the 2030 objective. The next seven years will be crucial, but it appears the secret to success might be right under our feet: soil.
Dane County’s new soil tracking process leverages a process known as soil carbon storage, which acts as an anti-climate change aid. When soil is thriving, it naturally retains carbon dioxide below the surface and away from our atmosphere. This is possible because of underground ecosystems where creatures with a home in the dirt consume organic materials and emit carbon into the ground.
While soil carbon storage is a natural wonder of nature, it can be aided by soil-based carbon sequestration. These are land management practices, like intentionally choosing crops and adjusting farming techniques for optimal soil health and carbon trapping.
Although these are useful tools for resilience in farmland, modifying pre-existing ecosystems for rows of agriculture is not ideal. Instead, it’s preferable to keep or restore naturally occurring habitats like prairies and grasslands.
Parisi is aware of this and soil’s role in reaching the 2023 target. As a result, he offered Dane County landowners the option to enroll in the Continuous Cover Program (CCP). This involves a 15-year contract focused on introducing proper vegetation and methods to improve soil health.
CCP offers farmers an ecological and financial incentive and has already successfully converted over 1,500 acres of land, according to Parisi’s office. In response to the vast expansion of these sustainable systems, new tracking technology is needed.
That’s where LWRD and UW-Madison come in. In the coming months, LWRD will collect cores, which are column-shaped collections of soil sections. They plan to sample content up to a meter underground from private CCP lands as well as Dane County parks.
From there, the material will be sent to the UW Soil and Forage Lab for further study. Parisi invested over $4 million dollars in this initiative, hoping researchers will be able to measure changes in carbon content of soils that have been undergoing environmentally conscious management.
If higher levels are observed, this would indicate key progress towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the next seven years.
Carbon capture technology is at the forefront of climate solutions, from methods of air to soil. Armed with potential evidence from upcoming Dane County core sample studies, Parisi, LWRD, and UW-Madison could prove that investing in trapping these powerful gases is worth it.