...From the pages of Agricultural Research magazine
Are Golf Courses Holding
Golf course in Tucson, Arizona.
Next time you see Tiger Woods drive a golf ball 300-plus
yards or Annika Sorenstam drain a 15-foot putt, take a look at what's
under their feet. The beautifully manicured tees, fairways, and greens
are not only helping the golfers enjoy their round, but are also helping
the environment. That's because the turfgrass used for golf coursesand
elsewheremay help rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide by capturing
CO2 through photosynthesis and sequestering some of it in
Service soil scientist Ronald F. Follett and Colorado State University
researcher Yaling Qian have studied soil records from 16 Denver-area
golf courses. Follett says they found that carbon sequestration in the
soil under turfgrass occurred at a "significant rate that is comparable
to the carbon sequestration rate reported from U.S. land that has been
placed in the Conservation Reserve Program." That voluntary program,
run by USDA's Farm Service Agency, pays agricultural landowners to "establish
long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland," which
helps trap carbon.
Follett explains that golf course managers generally keep
excellent soil records; some of the records used for this research go
back 45 years. The scientists found that carbon sequestration lasts
for up to 31 years in fairways and 45 years in greens, after which the
rates slow or become negligible. While carbon sequestration exists on
tees, it was not nearly as much as those on fairways and greens. The
researchers are still investigating why this is the case.
A rapid increase in carbon sequestration occurs the first
25 to 30 years after the turfgrass is established. The study found that
greens and fairways each store nearly a ton of carbon per acre per year.
Since lots of turfgrass is growing on golf courses, suburban
lawns, and public parks, the scientists hypothesize that the turfgrasses
help to mitigate CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion
of fossil fuels. That is, CO2 that may otherwise linger in
the atmosphere is instead trapped in the soil. Follett and Qian believe
this occurs "because of high productivity and lack of soil disturbance"
in turfgrass. Cities and their suburbs too have open spaces within themlike
lawns and parksthat are planted with turfgrass. These areas may
in fact serve as sinks for CO2.
This is one of the first studies to measure carbon sequestration
in urban environments. Other ARS scientists are studying rangeland (see
Agricultural Research, October
2002) as well as farmland (see Agricultural Research, February
2001) as possible carbon sinks.
The scientists are currently using computer models to
figure out the potential rates for carbon sequestration on golf courses.
They are also conducting a more detailed evaluation of soil samples
in fairways and in irrigated and nonirrigated rough.By David Elstein, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Global Change, an ARS National
Program (#204) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
"Are Golf Courses Holding the Carbon? Turfgrass As A "Sink" for CO2" was published in the June 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.