Exploring Patterns of Soil Organic Matter Decomposition with Students and the Public Through the Global Decomposition Project (GDP)
Friday, 19 December 2014
The Global Decomposition Project (GDP) is a program designed to introduce and educate students and the general public about soil organic matter and decomposition through a standardized protocol for collecting, reporting, and sharing data. This easy-to-use hands-on activity focuses on questions such as “How do environmental conditions control decomposition of organic matter in soil?” and “Why do some areas accumulate organic matter and others do not?” Soil organic matter is important to local ecosystems because it affects soil structure, regulates soil moisture and temperature, and provides energy and nutrients to soil organisms. It is also important globally because it stores a large amount of carbon, and when microbes “eat”, or decompose organic matter they release greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which affects the earth’s climate. The protocol describes a commonly used method to measure decomposition using a paper made of cellulose, a component of plant cell walls. Participants can receive pre-made cellulose decomposition bags, or make decomposition bags using instructions in the protocol and easily obtained materials (e.g., window screen and lignin-free paper). Individual results will be shared with all participants and the broader public through an online database. We will present decomposition bag results from a research site in Alaskan tundra, as well as from a middle-school-student led experiment in California. The GDP demonstrates how scientific methods can be extended to educate broader audiences, while at the same time, data collected by students and the public can provide new insight into global patterns of soil decomposition. The GDP provides a pathway for scientists and educators to interact and reach meaningful education and research goals.