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Rapid Carbon Assessment Under Way in the Caribbean Area

Front: Carmen L. Santiago, NRCS State Soil Scientist, describes the Humatas component of the RaCA site in Las Marías, PR, under forest management.  Back (left to right): Dr. Erika Marin-Spiotta, UW, assists while UPR-Mayagüez students, Yesmarie and Keila, learn and help fill out the RaCA soil description form. Standing (right): Samuel Ríos, NRCS Soil Scientist, waits to start the soil bulk density core collection.The NRCS Caribbean Area (CB) and its Soil Survey Division staff welcome the opportunity to be part of this second phase effort to inventory soil carbon stocks nationwide. By the late 1800’s, more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were deforested for agriculture, mostly sugarcane production. Today the islands have predominately young to old secondary forest because much of the agricultural land has been abandoned. The RaCA initiative will be a great opportunity for the NRCS-CB to inventory the effects of soil properties, agricultural management and land use on soil carbon stocks.

The Caribbean RaCA project will study a total of 30 sites throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The soil samples will be sent to Dr. Erika Marin-Spiotta, Assistant Professor and Lead Principal Investigator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Geography, Biogeochemistry and Biogeography Lab. Dr. Marin-Spiotta is studying how environmental and historical factors affect the amount of turnover of organic carbon in tropical soils through a cooperative agreement with NRCS.

During the month of May 2013, the NRCS-CB Soil’s staff collected soil samples from 6 different sites in Puerto Rico, including sites in the municipalities of Rincón, Lajas, Guánica, Juana Díaz, Las Marías and Aguadilla. In June 2013, we collected soil samples from 4 sites in St. Croix and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

During the first week of July 2013, Michael Jones, SDQS from WV, visited the NRCS-CB Soils staff and trained us on how to assemble and use the VNIR equipment and how to fill out the RaCA workbook. He also participated in sample collection at a site in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, on US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) property. An FWS representative and university summer students also took part in that sample collection.

The 11 sites that were recently collected represent a diversity of soils from different Major Land Resources Areas (including 270-Humid Mountain and Valleys, 271-Semiarid Mountain and Valleys, 272-Humid Coastal Plains and 273-Semiarid Coastal Plains) and under different land uses including cropland, pastureland, forestland and wetlands.

The Rapid Carbon Assessment in the Caribbean Area has met its goals of 1) sampling a diversity of resources, soils and land uses and 2) involving a diversity of partners and stakeholders in soil sample collections. The large number of people involved in the initiative all contributed to the main objective of this project: to increase our knowledge of how to conserve and increase our soil carbon stocks nationwide. The NRCS National Soil Science Division, the MLRA MO-3, the University of Wisconsin, University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez professors and students, NRCS field office staff, local and federal agency personnel, land users and NRCS-CB Soils’ staff members – ALL are contributing to the success of this project.

The NRCS-CB Soils’ Division thanks all our partners for their support!