Climate change and soil functions (2020/2021)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Claudio Zaccone
Claudio Zaccone
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
I semestre dal Oct 1, 2020 al Jan 29, 2021.

Lesson timetable

Go to lesson schedule

Learning outcomes

With ca. 1500 Gt C, soil is the largest terrestrial carbon sink after oceans. An unsustainable soil management can shift soil from carbon sink to carbon source (CO2, CH4) and, consequently, contribute to climate change. The aim of the course is to provide fundamental concepts about the effects of climate change on soil and vice versa. In particular, the course is focused on: i) the impact of global warming on soil ecosystem services, ii) the potential role of soils to mitigate climate change, and iii) sustainable management practices allowing to enhance soil organic carbon sequestration as a key to address climate change mitigation, adaption and food security.


INTRODUCTION. Climate change: the socio-economic and political context. From the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the EU Green Deal.
OVERVIEW ON THE EARTH’S CLIMATE SYSTEM. How it works: components, temporal scales, external forcing and internal interactions/responses, positive and negative feedbacks.
CLIMATE CHANGE OVER TIME. The climate change since the Last Glacial Maximum. Humans and pre-industrial climate. Humans and post-industrial climate. Global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The Global carbon budget. Greenhouse effect and global warming: Earth’s radiation budget, models and possible future scenarios.
SOIL AND CARBON SEQUESTRATION. Soil organic carbon (SOC): distribution, functions and analytical determination. Soil organic matter (SOM) and SOC: composition, carbon cycle and mechanisms of carbon stabilization. Pools of SOC: chemical vs. physical fractionations. Global carbon sequestration: overview (accumulation vs. sequestration, sink vs. stock, features of an ideal carbon sink), determination of carbon stock, mechanisms of carbon sequestration (mineral vs. organic soils), strategies and technological options (with a focus on terrestrial ecosystems), limitations (saturation, permanence/reversibility, dispersion, barriers, potential risks), benefits (with a focus on climate change mitigation and food security) and initiatives (4p1000).

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
Colin Baird, Michael Cann Chimica ambientale (Edizione 3) Zanichelli 2013 9788808173782
William F. Ruddiman Earth's Climate: Past and Future (Edizione 3) W. H. Freeman & Co. 2013 9781429255257
Zaccone C. Materiale didattico fornito dal docente 2021 Slides delle lezioni ed articoli scientifici.

Assessment methods and criteria

The final exam consists of an oral interview (ca. 30 min of duration; generally consisting of 3 questions) on the topics developed during the course and will aim to ascertain both the concepts learned and the ability to link them and discuss implications. The exam method is the same for attending and non-attending students.