Biochar: Rediscovering the Wisdom of Indigenous Soils




Whitehead, Paige

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Indigenous burning and soil building practices throughout time created productive, resilient, and biodiverse soils which are studied today for applications in carbon sequestration, soil remediation, and designing resilient ecosystems in preparation for climate change. In this experiment we emulated these Indigenous anthrosols in order to better understand and characterize their unique features, specifically focusing on biochar structure and its role in supporting the microbiome of the soil. ‘DIY Biochar’, two types of commercially available biochar (RoughChar and FineChar), and a charcoal control were compared in a plant growth study, analyzed using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) pre and post inoculation, and characterized using ATR-FTIR Spectroscopy. Based on ATR-FTIR data, the ‘DIY BioChar’ and Charcoal Control both showed strong peaks in the 1620 cm-1 region, indicative of the formation of aromatic rings, suggesting successful formation of recalcitrant carbon and potentially suitable for carbon sequestration applications. The plant growth study suggests that 20% biochar/soil ratio is preferred, and microbially active soil is critical for plant growth (full model: predictive value 0.79, F score 0.0005). Based on the SEM images, the ‘DIY Biochar’ was most suitable for microbial habitat; this sample showed a well- preserved cellular structure, a variety of pore sizes, had the best volume to total internal surface area ratio, and showed successful microbial colonization after 6 month growth. This poster represents the seed of further research into the long-term impacts of indigenous biochars on soil structure, metagenome, and biodiversity.



Biochar, Environmental Studies, Agriculture, Microbiome, Microbiology, SEM, Machine Learning, Permaculture, Restorative Design