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Nature-based solutions


A map of the measurement methods currently available to count atoms like carbon in complex systems like soil.


This focus area centers on bridging the knowledge and technological gap related to scaling nature-based methods of sequestering carbon and reducing emissions from land-intensive sectors. Nature-based solutions offer a great opportunity to capture atmospheric CO
2 because of their scale and low cost. Enhancement of natural sinks for carbon takes a variety of forms and implicates an even more diverse set of community and ecological co-benefits, including protecting water resources, soil resilience, biodiversity, and farmer livelihoods. Nature-based solutions can involve different strategic pathways, like afforestation and regenerative agriculture.

Opportunities for collaborative action may emerge in quantifying organic carbon in soils and biomass, especially in wetland and marshland ecosystems, which play a critical role in the global carbon and nitrogen cycles. Member companies have expressed interest in the quantification of carbon in nature as well as in techniques to address carbon permanence challenges.

News Highlight

Nature-based Solutions Interventions: Quantifying the Potential for Positive Climate Impact

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Is this area relevant to your company’s climate and sustainability goals?
Find out more about membership.

All of our areas of interest have links to the MCSC Seed Awards projects.

MIT faculty members, researchers, and students interested in this impact area: we’ve got all kinds of ways for you to work with us and our member companies.

Projects


  • Measurement methodologies to track carbon and nitrogen fluxes (Coleman)
    • Developing and evaluating scalable measurement procedures which can track NBS-relevant data across NBS-relevant ecosystems and environments
  • Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity (Bischoff)
    • Guiding efforts to quantify, and set goals around, how enhancing and strengthening biodiversity is complementary to mitigating and adapting to climate change
    • Developing microbial biosensors to measure nitrate and other N species in soil, in close collaboration with the MIT Voigt lab
  • Forest restoration: synergies for climate and biodiversity (Harvey, Fricke)
    • The restoration of tropical forest holds the largest potential for carbon sequestration. Most deforested areas regenerate via natural dispersal of seeds rather than tree planting. 90% of tropical tree species rely on animals for seed dispersal, but this process is disrupted by animal biodiversity decline and habitat fragmentation. Although small-scale ecological studies suggest that seed dispersers and their movement explain differences in the carbon storage of regenerating forests, data limitations have prohibited quantification of this process at broad scales. This limitation obscures a potentially strong link between biodiversity declines and the climate crisis and complicates decision-making regarding forest restoration methods. In preliminary analyses of ground-based data across the tropics, we find that variation in seed dispersal can explain major variation in carbon sequestration. We will use further analyses of ground-based data, satellite-based data, and modeling to understand the synergies between solutions that address the climate and biodiversity crises. Our results will support decision making to enhance natural carbon sinks through active and passive forest restoration.
  • Coatings to protect and enhance diverse microbes for improved soil health and crop yields (Furst)
    • This team is developing an inexpensive, easy-to-apply protective coating that enables the production and transport of microbes under non-ideal conditions. The coating self-assembles on individual microbes and is derived from components that are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. This advance will enable the global restoration of soil microbiomes and increase crop yields from treated farmland.
  • Carbon Sequestration through Sustainable Practices by Smallholder Farmers (Zheng)
    • This research takes a data-driven, community-centered, iterative approach to address several key questions in the incentive design: (i) identify local operational and behavioral constraints for interpretability and practical implementation, (ii) how to account for inherent data uncertainty and fluctuations in soil carbon measurements, and (iii) how to incorporate the influence of nonlinearity in biological processes. 
  • ECO-LENS: AI for urban biodiversity tracking (Fernandez)
    • This team proposes the implementation of a biodiversity detection and classification framework using AI and multi-stakeholder engagement to overcome urban biodiversity mapping challenges. The project will focus on the context of two Colombian cities located in biodiversity and carbon-rich ecosystems, namely, Quibdó and Leticia.
  • Quantifying the recarbonization of post-agricultural landscapes (Terrer)
    •  Exploring the challenges and opportunities in conceiving of post-agricultural landscapes (PALs) as carbon sinks.
  • Data synthesis for optimizing and enhancing soil carbon uptake (Terrer)
    • Apple, Cargill, and PepsiCo sponsored work beyond the NBS pathway’s purview, to build data synthesis frameworks and machine learning toolkits for soil carbon prediction, inference, and optimization at global scale

Contact Us


If you would like more information, please e-mail mcsc@mit.edu.

Who’s studying this

Amanda Bischoff

MCSC Impact Fellow

Evan Coleman

MCSC Impact Fellow

Member companies participating

Apple
Accenture
Cargill
Dow
Holcim
Inditex
Rand-Whitney Containerboard (RWCB), a Kraft Group company
PepsiCo
Verizon
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