Sequestering Carbon in Costa Rican Agriculture to Mitigate Climate Change

Cristina Chinchilla Soto
I’m Cristina Chinchilla Soto and I’m currently a visiting scholar from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), located in San Jose, Costa Rica. At UCR, I’m a researcher at the Environmental Pollution Research Center (CICA), as well as a Lecturer at the School of Agronomy where I teach Agroecology and Crop Physiology to 3rd year Agronomy students.
I have a B.Sc. in Agronomy and M.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources with an emphasis on soil sciences from the University of Costa Rica. In 2014, I graduated with my Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences from the University of Edinburgh. 
My research interests span from leaf ecophysiology (i.e. how plants respond to their environments) to greenhouse gases, especially nitrous oxide produced by nitrogen fertilization. I’m interested in what happens in natural ecosystems - a number of my studies have occurred over the course of several months working in Costa Rica’s dry forests - as well as in agricultural settings. I am particularly interested in the soil-plant continuum and how the management of these components impact future climate changes. 
In Costa Rica, 40% of the land is dedicated to agriculture and livestock, and although this sector produces 34% of the greenhouse gases, it can also contribute to climate change mitigation through temporal carbon fixation and long-term sequestration. Any small improvement in soil quality, with longer residence of the soil organic matter, might contribute to the mitigation of climate change and adaptation to more drastic environments, thereby directly improving the livelihood of small farmers. 
This is key for Costa Rica. 
However, we still need a better understanding of how long carbon stays in the soil and how we can enhance its residence time, something that I hope to understand better through my visit to The Ohio State University.
Thanks to the support from Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I am visiting The Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (C-MASC) in the School of Environment and Natural Resources for three months. Under the guidance of Dr. Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science, and through interaction with other C-MASC researchers and visiting scholars, I’m broadening my knowledge in soil carbon stability, effects of soil management on carbon, as well as applied laboratory and field techniques to study these topics. 
During my time at C-MASC, I am also attending Dr. Lal’s lectures on soil physics and soils and climate change. I’m not only refreshing my technical knowledge on these topics, but am having the chance to interact with students of different cultural and academic backgrounds, something that has undoubtedly enriched my time here and will contribute to my effectiveness as an instructor back at UCR.  
I’ve brought to Ohio State soil samples from one of my experimental sites in Costa Rica and I will be working in the lab for the next two months in order to explore how fertilization management might affect soil organic carbon storage in the short-term, and how soil carbon sequestration impacts soil health. This is important, as soil carbon is the key element of climate smart strategies that are currently being evaluated as part of Costa Rica’s country level strategy to become a carbon neutral country by 2021. 
Additionally, soil organic carbon quantity and quality have a direct impact on improving crop productivity, which is critical to enhancing the livelihoods of Costa Rican farmers. Acquired knowledge from my research will be applied and transferred through further research and graduate student theses, and it will also be disseminated to my students during lectures back at UCR.
The Ohio State University is a very prestigious university, with a large campus that is always alive (even in the winter!), so I have truly enjoyed exploring the campus, the library, and the City of Columbus. Everyone at C-MASC has been very helpful in orienting me to daily and professional life here in Central Ohio, and the Office of International Programs in Agriculture has also been extremely helpful in my pre-arrival arrangements, making it easy to settle in and get an immediate start on my research.  
Throughout my short time at the C-MASC, I have met other scholars working in similar subjects in their respective countries, so we have already started to discuss ideas for research collaboration. I have no doubt that when I return to Costa Rica we will continue to interact to plan future research activities in the area of carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation.