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Amazonian TERRA PRETA Can Transform Poor Soil Into Fertile


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« on: December 03, 2008, 09:20:49 pm »



Cornell researchers applied charcoal to a field on Game Farm Road to study the soil's properties.

(Image courtesy of
Cornell University)








                                 Amazonian Terra Preta Can Transform Poor Soil Into Fertile






ScienceDaily
(Mar. 1, 2006) —

The search for El Dorado in the Amazonian rainforest might not have yielded pots of gold, but it has led
to unearthing a different type of gold mine: some of the globe's richest soil that can transform poor soil
into highly fertile ground.

That's not all. Scientists have a method to reproduce this soil -- known as terra preta, or Amazonian dark earths -- and say it can pull substantial amounts of carbon out of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, helping to prevent global warming. That's because terra preta is loaded with so-called bio-char -- similar to charcoal.

"The knowledge that we can gain from studying the Amazonian dark earths, found throughout the Amazon River region, not only teaches us how to restore degraded soils, triple crop yields and support a wide array of crops in regions with agriculturally poor soils, but also can lead to technologies to sequester carbon in soil and prevent critical changes in world climate," said Johannes Lehmann, assistant professor of biogeochemistry in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University, speaking today (Feb. 18) at the 2006 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lehmann, who studies bio-char and is the first author of the 2003 book "Amazonian Dark Earths: Origin, Properties, Management," the first comprehensive overview of the black soil, said that the super-fertile soil was produced thousands of years ago by indigenous populations using slash-and-char methods instead of slash-and-burn. Terra preta was studied for the first time in 1874 by Cornell Professor Charles Hartt.

Whereas slash-and-burn methods use open fires to reduce biomass to ash, slash-and-char uses low-intensity smoldering fires covered with dirt and straw, for example, which partially exclude oxygen.

Slash-and-burn, which is commonly used in many parts of the world to prepare fields for crops, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Slash-and-char, on the other hand, actually reduces greenhouse gases, Lehmann said, by sequestering huge amounts of carbon for thousands of years and substantially reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soils.

"The result is that about 50 percent of the biomass carbon is retained," Lehmann said. "By sequestering
huge amounts of carbon, this technique constitutes a much longer and significant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide than most other sequestration options, making it a powerful tool for long-term mitigation
of climate change. In fact we have calculated that up to 12 percent of the carbon emissions produced
by human activity could be offset annually if slash-and-burn were replaced by slash-and-char."

In addition, many biofuel production methods, such as generating bioenergy from agricultural, fish and forestry waste, produce bio-char as a byproduct. "The global importance of a bio-char sequestration as
a byproduct of the conversion of biomass to bio-fuels is difficult to predict but is potentially very large,"
he added.

Applying the knowledge of terra preta to contemporary soil management also can reduce environmental pollution by decreasing the amount of fertilizer needed, because the bio-char helps retain nitrogen in the
soil as well as higher levels of plant-available phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and organic matter. The black
soil also does not get depleted, as do other soils, after repeated use.

"In other words, producing and applying bio-char to soil would not only dramatically improve soil and in-
crease crop production, but also could provide a novel approach to establishing a significant, long-term
sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide," said Lehmann. He noted that what is being learned from terra preta
also can help farmers prevent agricultural runoff, promote sustained fertility and reduce input costs.


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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2008, 09:35:19 pm »








Three Kuikuro Indians pose for documentary filmmakers in 2008 in Brazil's Xingu Indigenous Park, a remote Amazon Basin refuge for traditional cultures.

The Kuikuro tribe is said to be among the last to have seen British explorer Col. Percy Fawcett, who in 1925 led an ill-fated quest for a fabled lost Amazonian city.

The idea that the region hosted ancient cities is gaining ground in the 21st century, due in part to studies
of an ancient man-made soil, which may have provided the food necessary for such a civilization.



Photograph copyright

Phil Day /
Edge West, LLC
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2008, 09:37:13 pm »











                                       Superdirt Made Lost Amazon Cities Possible?






John Roach
for National Geographic News
November 19, 2008

Centuries-old European explorers' tales of lost cities in the Amazon have long been dismissed by scholars, in part because the region is too infertile to feed a sprawling civilization.

Now scientists are trying to recreate the recipe for the apparently human-made supersoil, which
still covers up to 10 percent of the Amazon Basin. Key ingredients included of dirt, charcoal, pottery, human excrement and other waste.

If recreated, the engineered soil could feed the hungry and may even help fight global warming,
experts suggest.







Before 1492



Scientists have long thought the river basin's tropical soils were too acidic to grow anything but the hardiest varieties of manioc, a potatolike staple.

But over the past several decades, researchers have discovered tracts of productive terra preta—"dark earth." The human-made soil's chocolaty color contrasts sharply with the region's natural yellowish soils.
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2008, 09:39:48 pm »



Left - a nutrient-poor oxisol;

right - an oxisol transformed into fertile terra preta









                                                     T E R R A   P R E T A






From Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia

 
Terra preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese) refers to expanses of very dark, fertile anthropogenic soils found in the Amazon Basin. It owes its name to its very high charcoal content. It is also known as “Amazonian dark earth” or “Indian black earth”. In Portuguese its full name is “Terra preta do índio” or “Terra preta de índio”. Terra mulata is lighter or brownish in color.

Terra preta is characterized by the presence of low-temperature charcoal in high concentrations; of high quantities of pottery sherds; of organic matter such as plant residues, animal faeces, fish and animal bones and other material; and of nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn).

It also shows high levels of microorganic activities and other specific characteristics within its particular ecosystem. It is less prone to leaching than surrounding soils. Terra preta zones are generally surrounded by terra comum, or "common soil"; these are infertile soils, mainly acrisols, but also ferralsols and arenosols

Terra preta soils are of pre-Columbian nature and were created by man between 7000 BP (ca. 5000 BC) and 500 BP (ca. 1450 AD) ("Before Present"). The soil's depth can reach 2 metres (6 feet). Thousands of years after its creation it is reputedly known as self-regenerating at the rate of 1 centimetre per year by the local farmers and caboclos in Brazil's Amazonian basin, and they seek it out for use and for sale as valuable compost.
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2008, 09:41:15 pm »



TERRA PRETA SITES







History



For a long time, the origins of the Amazonian dark earths were not immediately clear and several theories were considered. One idea was that they resulted from ashfall from volcanoes in the Andes, since they occur more frequently on the brows of higher terraces. Another theory considered its formation as a result of sedimentation in Tertiary lakes or in recent ponds.

However, because of their elevated charcoal content and the common presence of pottery remains,
it is now widely accepted that these soils are a product of indigenous soil management involving a labor intensive technique termed slash-and-char. The technique is differentiated from slash and burn by a lower temperature burn (thus producing more charcoal than ashes) and in being a tool for soil improvement.

This type of soil appeared between 450 BC and AD 950 at sites throughout the Amazon Basin.

The Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, the 16th C explorer who was the first European to transverse the Amazon River, reported densely populated regions running hundreds of kilometers along the river, suggesting population levels exceeding even those of today. These populations left no lasting monuments because they used local wood as their construction material, which unfortunately rotted in the humid climate (stone was unavailable).

While it is possible Orellana may have exaggerated the level of development among the Amazonians, their semi-nomadic descendants have the odd distinction among tribal indigenous societies of a hereditary, yet landless, aristocracy, a historical anomaly for a society without a sedentary, agrarian culture.

This suggests they once were more settled and agrarian but after the demographic collapse of the
16th and 17th century, due to European-introduced diseases, they reverted to less complex modes
of existence but maintained certain traditions.

Moreover, many indigenous people were forced to adapt to a more mobile lifestyle in order to protect themselves against colonialism. This might have made the benefits of terra preta, such as its self-renewing capacity, less attractive — farmers would not have been able to enjoy the use of renewed
soil because they would have been forced to move for safety.

Slash-and-burn might have been an adaptation to these conditions.

For 350 years after the European arrival by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, the Portuguese portion of the
basin remained an untended former food gathering and planned agricultural landscape occupied
by the Indigenous peoples who survived the arrival of European diseases.

There is ample evidence for complex large-scale, pre-Columbian social formations, including chiefdoms, in many areas of Amazonia (particularly the inter-fluvial regions) and even large towns and cities.

For instance the pre-Columbian culture on the island of Marajo may have developed Social stratification and supported a population of 100,000 people.

The Native Americans of the Amazon rain forest may have used Terra preta to make the land suitable for the large scale agriculture needed to support large populations and complex social formations such as chiefdoms.
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2008, 09:42:43 pm »



AMAZONIA







Location



Terra Preta soils are found mainly in Amazonia, where Sombroek et al estimate that they cover at
least 0.1 to 0.3%, or 6,300 to 18,900 km² of low forested Amazonia (cited by Denevan and Woods);
but others estimate this surface at 1.0% or more (twice the surface of Great-Britain).

Plots of Terra preta exist in small surfaces averaging 20 hectares, but near-900 acres' surfaces have also
been reported.

They are found among various climatic, geological and topographical situations.

Their distribution either follows main water courses, from East Amazonia to the central basin of Ama-
zonia[9], or are located on interfluvial sites (mainly of circular or lenticular shape and of a smaller size averag-
ing some 1.4 ha), see also distribution map of Terra Preta sites in Amazon basin.

Williams W. Woods (soil biologist at Southern Illinois University) estimates that around 10% of the original terra comum appears to have been converted to Terra preta. According to William Balée (anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans), the spreads of tropical forest between the savannas could be mainly anthropogenic –
a notion with dramatic implications world-wide for agri-
culture and conservation.

Terra preta sites are also known in other South American areas (Ecuador, Peru, Guyana)[13], in West Africa
(Benin, Liberia), and on the South African savannas.

Similar soil was found in late Roman Britain - see dark earth.
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2008, 09:44:56 pm »








Pedology



Terra Preta is defined as a type of latosol, having a carbon content ranging from high to very high
(more than 13-14% organic matter) in its A horizon, but without hydromorphic characteristics.

The composition of Terra preta presents important variants. For instance, the gardens close to dwell-
ings received more nutrients than fields farther away.

The variations in Amazonian dark earths prevent from establishing a clear separation line on whether they were intentionally created for soil improvement or whether the lightest variants are a by-product of habitation.

The varied features of the dark earths throughout the Amazon Basin suggest the existence of an extensive ancient native civilization dating back 500 to 2500 years bp.

Terra preta's capacity to increase its own volume – thus to sequester more carbon – was 'discovered' by pedologist William I. Woods of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  This central mystery of
Terra preta, is actively studied by many researchers from various disciplines.

The processes responsible for the formation of Terra preta soils are:



Incorporation of wood charcoal

Incorporation of organic matter and of nutrients

Role of micro-organisms and animals in the soil 
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2008, 09:46:22 pm »









Wood charcoal



The transformation of biomass into charcoal produces a series of charcoal derivates covered under the name of pyrogenic or black carbon, the composition of which varies; from lightly charred organic matter, up to soot particles rich in graphite formed by recomposition of free radicals (Hedges et al. 2000).

Here, all types of charbonated materials are called charcoal.

By convention, charcoal is considered to be any natural organic matter thermically transformed with
an O/C percentage less than 0.6[16] (smaller values have been suggested).

Because of possible interactions with minerals and organic matter from the soil, it is almost impossible
to identify charcoal with any certainty by determining only the proportion of O/C. The H/C percentage[18] or molecular markers such as benzenepolycarboxylic acid[19], are therefore used as second level
of identification.

Charcoal was added to poor soils, as wood charcoal processed at low temperature and with a limited supply of oxygen (i.e., with smothered fires).

William Woods (University of Kansas, Lawrence), expert on (ancient) abandoned living sites, has measured in Terra preta up to 9% black carbon (against 0.5% in surrounding soils). B. Glaser et al have found up to 70 times more carbon than in surrounding Ferralsols[3], with approximative average values of 50 Mg ha-1 m-1.

Amending the soil with low temperature charcoal produced from a mix of wood and leafy biomass (termed biochar) has been observed to increase the activity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

Finnish researcher Janna Pietikäinen has tested high porosity materials such as zeolite, activated carbon and charcoal; these tests show – contrary to her expectations - that microbial growth is substantially improved with charcoal. It may be so that these small pieces of charcoal tend to migrate within the soil, providing a habitat for bacteria that decompose the biomass in the surface ground cover. It is theorized that this process may have an essential role in Terra preta soils' self-propagation; a virtuous cycle would be established as the fungus spreads from the charcoal, fixing additional carbon, stabilizing the soil with glomalin, and increasing nutrient availability for nearby plants.  Many other agents contribute, from earthworms to humans and the charring process.

The chemical structure of charcoal in Terra preta soils is characterized with poly-condensed aromatic groups, providing prolonged biological and chemical stability that sustains the fight against microbial degradation; it also provides, after partial oxydation, the highest nutrients retention.

Wood charcoal (but not that from grasses or high cellulose made at low temperature), thus has an internal layer of biological oil condensates that the bacteria consume, and that is similar to cellulose in its effects on microbial growth (Christoph Steiner, EACU 2004).

Charring at high temperature loses that layer and brings little increase in the soil fertility. Glaser et al. (1998 and 2003) and Brodowski et al. (2005) have proved that the formation of condensed aromatic structures depends on the manufacture of charcoal. It is the slow oxidation of charcoal that creates carboxylic groups; these increase the cations' exchange capacity in the soil.

Lehmann et al have studied the nucleus of black carbon particles produced by the biomass. They have found it highly aromatic even after thousands of years in the soil and presenting spectral characteristics of fresh charcoal. Around that nucleus and on the surface of the black carbon particles, there were higher proportions of forms of carboxylic and phenolic Cs spatially and structurally distinct from the particle's nucleus. Analysis of the groups of molecules provides evidences both for the oxydation of the black carbon particle itself, as well as for the adsorption of non-black carbon.

This charcoal is thus decisive for the sustainability aspect of Terra preta soils.

Amendements of Ferrasol with wood charcoal greatly increases vegetal productivity.

Note that agricultural lands have lost in average 50% of their carbon due to the practice of intensive cultivation and other degradations of human origin.

It is important to note that the fresh charcoal must first be “charged” before it can function as a bio
tope.  Several experiments demonstrate that uncharged charcoal can bring a provisional depletion of available nutrients when first put into the soil - until its pores fill up with nutrients. This is overcome
by soaking the charcoal for a few weeks (2 to 4 weeks) in any liquid nutrient (urine, plant tea. ...).
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« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2008, 09:47:49 pm »










Wood charcoal



The transformation of biomass into charcoal produces a series of charcoal derivates covered under the name of pyrogenic or black carbon, the composition of which varies; from lightly charred organic matter, up to soot particles rich in graphite formed by recomposition of free radicals (Hedges et al. 2000).

Here, all types of charbonated materials are called charcoal.

By convention, charcoal is considered to be any natural organic matter thermically transformed with
an O/C percentage less than 0.6[16] (smaller values have been suggested).

Because of possible interactions with minerals and organic matter from the soil, it is almost impossible
to identify charcoal with any certainty by determining only the proportion of O/C. The H/C percentage[18] or molecular markers such as benzenepolycarboxylic acid[19], are therefore used as second level
of identification.

Charcoal was added to poor soils, as wood charcoal processed at low temperature and with a limited supply of oxygen (i.e., with smothered fires).

William Woods (University of Kansas, Lawrence), expert on (ancient) abandoned living sites, has measured in Terra preta up to 9% black carbon (against 0.5% in surrounding soils). B. Glaser et al have found up to 70 times more carbon than in surrounding Ferralsols[3], with approximative average values of 50 Mg ha-1 m-1.

Amending the soil with low temperature charcoal produced from a mix of wood and leafy biomass (termed biochar) has been observed to increase the activity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

Finnish researcher Janna Pietikäinen has tested high porosity materials such as zeolite, activated carbon and charcoal; these tests show – contrary to her expectations - that microbial growth is substantially improved with charcoal. It may be so that these small pieces of charcoal tend to migrate within the soil, providing a habitat for bacteria that decompose the biomass in the surface ground cover. It is theorized that this process may have an essential role in Terra preta soils' self-propagation; a virtuous cycle would be established as the fungus spreads from the charcoal, fixing additional carbon, stabilizing the soil with glomalin, and increasing nutrient availability for nearby plants.  Many other agents contribute, from earthworms to humans and the charring process.

The chemical structure of charcoal in Terra preta soils is characterized with poly-condensed aromatic groups, providing prolonged biological and chemical stability that sustains the fight against microbial degradation; it also provides, after partial oxydation, the highest nutrients retention.

Wood charcoal (but not that from grasses or high cellulose made at low temperature), thus has an internal layer of biological oil condensates that the bacteria consume, and that is similar to cellulose in its effects on microbial growth (Christoph Steiner, EACU 2004).

Charring at high temperature loses that layer and brings little increase in the soil fertility. Glaser et al. (1998 and 2003) and Brodowski et al. (2005) have proved that the formation of condensed aromatic structures depends on the manufacture of charcoal. It is the slow oxidation of charcoal that creates carboxylic groups; these increase the cations' exchange capacity in the soil.

Lehmann et al have studied the nucleus of black carbon particles produced by the biomass. They have found it highly aromatic even after thousands of years in the soil and presenting spectral characteristics of fresh charcoal. Around that nucleus and on the surface of the black carbon particles, there were higher proportions of forms of carboxylic and phenolic Cs spatially and structurally distinct from the particle's nucleus. Analysis of the groups of molecules provides evidences both for the oxydation of the black carbon particle itself, as well as for the adsorption of non-black carbon.

This charcoal is thus decisive for the sustainability aspect of Terra preta soils.

Amendements of Ferrasol with wood charcoal greatly increases vegetal productivity.

Note that agricultural lands have lost in average 50% of their carbon due to the practice of intensive cultivation and other degradations of human origin.

It is important to note that the fresh charcoal must first be “charged” before it can function as a bio
tope.  Several experiments demonstrate that uncharged charcoal can bring a provisional depletion of available nutrients when first put into the soil - until its pores fill up with nutrients. This is overcome
by soaking the charcoal for a few weeks (2 to 4 weeks) in any liquid nutrient (urine, plant tea. ...).
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« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2008, 09:49:40 pm »









Microorganisms and animals



Bacteria and fungi (myco-organisms) live and die within the porous media, thus increasing its carbon content. Johannes Lehman and W. Zech, Bruno Glaser à l'Universite de Bayreuth (Allemagne), Embrapa (Manaus, Brazil)
and many others, are studying these phenomena.

Until now there is no scientific evidence for a particular micro-organism to be responsible for the formation of
Terra Preta, but a significant production of biological black carbon has recently been identified, especially under moist tropical conditions.

It is possible that the fungus Aspergillus niger is mainly responsible for it.

Topoliantz and Ponge's work, summarized in a synthetic article in “Soil Biology & Biochemistry”, shows that the peregrine earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus (Oligochaeta: Glossoscolecidae), widespread in
all Amazonia and notably in clearings after burning processes thanks to its high tolerance of a low content of organic matter in the soil, has been shown to ingest pieces of charcoal and to mix them in
a finely ground form with the mineral soil.

The authors, who experimentally verified this process, point at this as an essential element in the generation of Terra preta soils, associated with agronomic knowledge involving layering the charcoal in thin regular layers favourable to its burying by Pontoscolex corethrurus.

Some ants are repelled from fresh Terra Preta soils, their density of appearance is found to be low after about
10 days as compared to control soils – see Terra Preta Experiments.





Modern research to recreate Terra preta



Efforts to recreate these soils are being undertaken by companies such as Biochar Energy Corporation, Eprida
and Best Energies.

Research efforts are underway at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, Iowa State University and Geoecology Energy Organisation.

Biochar is the main (and likely key) ingredient in the formation of terra preta. One focus of these researchers is
the prospect that if biochar becomes widely used for soil improvement, it will involve globally significant amounts
of carbon sequestration, remediating global warming.





See also



Agroforestry

Biochar

Dark earth

Russian Chernozem

Terramare culture

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 
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« Reply #10 on: December 03, 2008, 09:51:37 pm »









References



"“1491”"., by Charles Mann.

"Eprida Home Page". Retrieved on 2006-05-08.

"Programme Summary: The Secret of El Dorado". BBC Two, 9 pm, Thursday 19 December 2005. Retrieved on 2008-07-10.

"Terra Preta". Hypography discussion forum. Retrieved on 2006-05-08.

"Putting the carbon back: Black is the new green" (PDF). Nature. Retrieved on 2008-07-10.

"Terra Preta Discussion List". Retrieved on 2008-07-10.

Bechtold,G.: "Research work, homepage and thesis about Terra Preta with maps of TP sites and TP
field work in Belterra, Pará".

Michael Tennesen (2007). "Black Gold of the Amazon", in Discover Magazine Vol. 28 No. 04, April 2007. Last accessed March 2007.

"Terra Preta Home Page". Retrieved on 2007-04-20.

David Haywood (2007). "Could the Mysterious Agricultural Techniques of an Ancient Amazonian Civilization Make New Zealand Farming More Competitive?", on Public Address Radio 5 May 2007.
Last accessed May 2007.

Casselman, Anne (May 2007). ""Special Report: Inspired by Ancient Amazonians, a Plan to Convert
Trash into Environmental Treasure"". Scientific American. Retrieved on 2008-07-10.
Manuel Arroyo-Kalin (2007) Geoarchaeological approaches to the study of Terras Pretas. http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/~maa27/






External links



"Modern Terra Preta Creation".
Salleh, Anna (2007-06-08). "Charred farm waste could gobble up carbon". News in Science.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2008-07-10. ABC Science Online.

Horstman, Mark (2007-09-23). "Agrichar – A solution to global warming?",
ABC TV Science: Catalyst, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Retrieved on 10 July 2008. 



Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_preta"
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« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2008, 09:53:48 pm »


                             

                             Sampling terra petra
                             Manaus,
                             Amazonas - Brazil
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« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2008, 10:08:22 pm »









                                                      B L A C K   M A G I C



                           Can a lost civilization teach us to double crop yields and produce


                                        carbon-negative energy at the same time?






In 1542, Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana described large cities, extensive roads, and fertile croplands in the heart of the Amazon Basin. These claims were long thought to be exaggerations at best. Later explorers found no traces of these complex societies. Nor did historians or archaeologists.

However, those notions are beginning to change. Orellana may well have led the first (and last) party of Europeans through a highly advanced civilization that thrived in the Amazon for centuries - a civilization whose existence was thought to be impossible. After all, even with modern farming techniques, crop yields cannot be sustained on the poor native soils. A rainforest soaks up every last drop of rain. Remove the rainforest, and the soil nutrients leach away in no time. The slash-and-burn techniques used by today’s farmers in the Amazon produce a layer of ash that may only achieve a few years’ worth of crop growth before all usable soil nutrients have eroded away. How could a large pre-Columbian civilization thrive where modern agriculture cannot?


                                     


Archaeologists in the Moxos Plains of Bolivia have started to unravel this 500-year old mystery. The Moxos Plains are a flat, savanna-like region on the edge of the Amazon rain forest. The plains are subject to seasonal flooding, and covered with relatively sparse vegetation. However, the landscape is dotted with “forest islands” - thousands of raised areas with highly fertile soil, covered with lush vegetation.
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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2008, 10:16:10 pm »









The forest islands were thought to be the result of some sort of volcanic or other geological activity. But every forest island has thick, rich soil known as terra preta, or “dark earth”. And everywhere there’s dark earth, there are also pottery shards, human bone fragments, charcoal, and other evidence of human life. Intricately detailed artifacts have been discovered which rival the Incan and Mayan cultures’ artistry.

Evidence now suggests that the forest islands themselves were man-made earthworks. The landscape is also criss-crossed with unnaturally straight lines and rectangular patterns, for miles on end. The straight lines are now believed to be the remains of an extensive web of causeways connecting the islands, and a system of canals, with fish weirs. The rectangular patterns were agricultural plots, raised to protect them from seasonal flooding. As researchers have started to map the terra preta soil throughout the Amazon basin, they’re finding a strong correlation between the rich soil and the places where Orellana reported seeing villages.

Perhaps the most valuable discovery has been the rich soil itself. It appears that this vast and complex culture did not just take advantage of terra preta — they created it. This lost civilization, apparently destroyed in a matter of decades by smallpox, influenza, and measles, has left us something valuable indeed — a technique for creating soil with properties that would be considered magical - if they weren’t scientifically validated.

Consider this: The terra preta soil can result in increases in crop yields of two, three, or in one case, nearly nine times greater than the native soil; the technique for creating terra preta soil can extract significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and store it in the soil for millenia; as long as an eight-inch layer of terra preta is left on the surface, it can apparently regenerate itself to a depth of 24 inches over a period of two decades1; and at least one plot of terra preta soil has been continuously cropped for over 40 consecutive years.
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Bianca
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« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2008, 10:17:45 pm »







Exploring the Potential



Several companies are trying to take the process even further. One company, Eprida, believes that through a process called pyrolysis, it can produce bio-oil, hydrogen-based gas, and highly fertile soil, from crop residue, on a small scale, in a way that returns micro-nutrients to the soil and removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Their prototype power plant, which is the size of a semi trailer, burns peanut shells. The heat produced is used to create steam, which is mixed with the smoke from the burning process itself. When the steam and smoke combine, a hydrogen-based gas is captured, which can then be used as a fuel, similar to natural gas. Alternately, all or part of the gaseous smoke/steam mix can be distilled into a liquid fuel. And of course, the charred material created becomes a soil amendment.

Eprida will target small farmers, since a farm can easily provide all the inputs and use all the outputs of the process.

The researchers at Eprida actually had no knowledge of terra preta when they began researching sustainable ways to produce energy from crop residue — but the hints were there. Danny Day, Eprida’s CEO, tells the following story:

One of my employees, Nate, was instructed to bring a 55 gallon drum of charcoal from an area where we had produced and piled it up two years earlier. He came back and asked what did I want to do with the plants.



I said, “What plants?”

“The plants growing on the charcoal,” he replied.

I said, “Nate, I need clean charcoal with no plants in them. Just move them out of the way and get clean charcoal with no plants or root material in it.”

He quickly went away.

The next day I was puzzled and asked Nate what kind of plants were growing in the charcoal.

He said, “Oh grass, weeds… ” He paused. “And turnips.”

“Turnips? What kind of turnips”

He smiled as he held up his hands about a foot apart and said, “Big turnips.”

I said, “Wow. That’s incredible. Go get me one.”

“I can’t,” he replied.

“Why not,” I asked.

“You told me to move them.”

“Where did they go?”

Nate replied, “Charlie, Philip, David and I took them home.”

“How much did you get?”

“We each got a big garbage bag full!”

“What did they taste like?”

“They were good!”



PHOTO OF:

Comparison of corn with and without biochar soil additive


PROVED TOO LARGE TO REPRODUCE HERE.  PLEASE GO TO SITE:



http://henandharvest.com/?p=118
« Last Edit: December 03, 2008, 10:32:08 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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