Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation through Natural Resource Management Program

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change pose one of the greatest long-term challenges to human society. While fossil fuel combustion is the single greatest source of greenhouse gases, land use and agricultural activities contribute almost one-third of the human-induced warming of the planet. Hence, improved management practices are essential for reducing greenhouse gas (CO2, N2O and CH4) emissions from land use. Carbon sequestration - by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere through the build up of carbon stocks in soils and biomass with improved land use practices - is a low cost, early-action mitigation option, which also rebuilds soil fertility. Practices that improve the nitrogen use efficiency of crops can reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and greatly enhance environmental quality. Currently, nearly one-quarter of the nitrogen fertilizer used (11 million tonnes in the US) is lost from soils, resulting in nitrate pollution of groundwater, coastal ‘deadzones’ and degradation of pristine ecosystems. Reducing methane (CH4) emissions from livestock production can increase animal productivity, yield renewable energy (CH4 capture from manure storage), and improve air quality. Over the longer term, renewable energy from agricultural biomass offers great potential to reduce fossil fuel use. New crops and management systems for bioenergy production are needed to fully realize this potential in an environmentally sustainable way.

NREL scientists are among the world leaders in terrestrial greenhouse gas assessment and mitigation. Our expertise spans agricultural, grassland, and forest ecosystems and we work closely with agronomists, foresters, atmospheric scientists, remote sensing experts, economists, and social scientists across CSU and around the world. For over 30 years we have led the development of ecosystem biogeochemical modeling and basic research on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics. In addition, we are leading numerous efforts to provide terrestrial greenhouse gas inventories at national, region and state levels within the US and abroad, working with representatives of industries, state and federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to help them integrate greenhouse gas mitigation into their activities.

The mission of the proposed Center is to facilitate the adoption of improved land management practices to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in an economically and environmentally sustainable fashion. We will accomplish this by providing the knowledge and tools needed by land managers and policy makers to design and implement land use-based mitigation strategies, including GHG emission reductions, carbon sequestration and bioenergy production. Implementing such strategies can provide a new source of income to farmers and ranchers, both from the emergence of emission reduction trading systems, which are under development in the US and internationally, and as energy producers. Additional benefits of GHG mitigation practices include improved air, water and soil quality.

NREL Participants

Richard Conant, Steve Del Grosso, Karolien Denef, Niall Hannan, Jeff Hicke, Julia Klein, Stephen Ogle, Dennis Ojima, Bill Parton, Eldor Paul, Keith Paustian, Alain Plante, Jim Slusser, Heidi Steltzer, Dave Theobald

Relevant NREL Projects

Download the full description of the Program for Green House Gas Mitigation through Natural Resource Management (pdf).

For further information contact Rich Conant ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).