Steppe Soils as a Carbon Sink


“The carbon sink potential of Eurasian steppe soils, depending on land use patterns“


The humus-forming soils of the Central Asian steppe region play an important role in the global carbon cycle. However, their role as carbon sinks has been vastly underestimated to date. In Kazakhstan alone, these soils cover an area of 1.1 million square kilometres. Using Kazakhstan as example, the project performed a large-scale quantification and assessment of the carbon sink potential of steppe soils. Specific carbon values for each soil type were determined, depending on the unique characteristics of the different steppe types and their respective utilisation gradients.


To achieve these goals, we made an extensive meta-study, which systematically incorporated existing research projects concerning this topic. During a six-week field campaign in summer 2011 in Kazakhstan, the carbon fixation potential of different soil and steppe types was analysed and evaluated, depending on the respective patterns of land use along a transect. Based on extrapolation from the study areas, a subsequent large-scale assessment of the possible carbon sink potential in Kazakhstan and Southern Russia was conducted and recommendations for the protection of steppe habitats and the establishment of nature reserves were made.


In addition, awareness of the current climate debate was raised among kazakh scientists, especially in regard to the importance of steppe soils in the ecosystem and their role as carbon sinks. We hope this will contribute to fostering a deeper understanding of regional land use and conservation options for steppe habitats.

Moreover, as part of the national climate strategy of Kazakhstan, potentials for the marketing of carbon certificates on the basis of climate-friendly land use were developed, thus creating new opportunities for the local economy.


The project was financed by the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ) GmbH (German Society for International Co-operation). The Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Eurasian University Astana in Kazakhstan served as local project partner.