Terra Preta

Isolating Unique Bacteria from Terra Preta Systems: Using Culturing and Molecular Tools for Characterizing Microbial Life in Terra Preta
O'Neill, Brendan Grossman, Julie Tsai, S.M. Gomes, Jose Elias Garcia, Carlos Eduardo Solomon, Dawit Liang, Biqing Lehmann, Johannes Thies, Janice
Poster presentation from the 2006 World Congress of Soil Science in Philadelphia, PA

The greater fertility of Terra Preta (TP) soils is thought to be due to their high black carbon (BC) content, which contributes to increased nutrient and moisture retention, and increased pH.


Black in the New Green
Emma Marris, NATURE, Vol 442, 10 August 2006

"In 1879, the explorer Herbert Smith regaled the readers of Scribner

Carbon Cycling: A sustainable path to food and energy (6.6 MB pdf)
Danny Day, Eprida, Alternative Energy Technology Innovations, May 12, 2005

EPRIDA PyrolysisEPRIDA Pyrolysis

Terra Preta de Indio
Johannes Lehmann. Soil Biogeochemistry, Cornell University January 2007

"Terra Preta de Indio" (Amazonian Dark Earths; earlier also called "Terra Preta do Indio" or Indian Black Earth) is the local name for certain dark earths in the Brazilian Amazon region. These dark earths occur, however, in several countries in South America and probably beyond. They were most likely created by pre-Columbian Indians from 500 to 2500 years B.P. and abandoned after the invasion of Europeans (Smith, 1980; Woods et al., 2000). However, many questions are still unanswered with respect to their origin, distribution, and properties.


Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet
Biopact, Friday, August 18, 2006

Most often, biofuels are seen as being 'carbon- neutral' in that they do not add CO2 to the atmosphere. When they are burned for energy, CO2 is emitted, but it gets taken up again as the new biomass grows, thus closing the carbon cycle and resulting in a neutral balance. This is the commonly held view of how biofuels are 'green'. In an early text, however, we hinted at the possibility of bioenergy doi

Building a black soil
C.I. Czimczik (1) and C.A. Masiello (2)

Black carbon (BC) is a major fraction (up to 35%, depending on methods used) of
soil organic carbon (SOC) in some of the most fertile and extensively cropped soils
of the world (Mollisols, Andisols, Terra Preta de Indio). Although BC is produced via
biomass burning in many ecosystems, it accumulates as a component of SOC in only
a few. Soils enriched in BC are not necessarily found in areas with the highest fire frequencies (savannah) or with the largest black carbon production (woody vegetation).

The 'Terra Preta' phenomenon: a model for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropics
Bruno Glaser, Ludwig Haumaier, Georg Guggenberger, Wolfgang Zech
Journal Naturwissenschaften,Springer Berlin/Heidelberg
Issue Volume 88, Number 1 / February, 2001


Many soils of the lowland humid tropics are thought to be too infertile to support sustainable agriculture. However, there is strong evidence that permanent or semi-permanent agriculture can itself create sustainably fertile soils known as 'Terra Preta' soils. These soils not only contain higher concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium, but also greater amounts of stable soil organic matter. Frequent findings of charcoal and highly aromatic humic substances suggest that residues of incomplete combustion of organic material (black carbon) are a key factor in the persistence of soil organic matter in these soils. Our investigations showed that 'Terra Preta' soils contained up to 70 times more black carbon than the surrounding soils. Due to its polycyclic aromatic structure, black carbon is chemically and microbially stable and persists in the environment over centuries. Oxidation during this time produces carboxylic groups on the edges of the aromatic backbone, which increases its nutrient-holding capacity. We conclude that black carbon can act as a significant carbon sink and is a key factor for sustainable and fertile soils, especially in the humid tropics.

Terra Preta Homepage, Dark earths, Red Indian black earth
University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany 2002

Terra Preta (do indio) is a black earth-like anthropogenic soil with enhanced fertility due to high levels of soil organic matter (SOM) and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium embedded in a landscape of infertile soils (see soil profiles below). Terra Preta soils occur in small patches averaging 20 ha, but 350 ha sites have also been reported. These partly over 2000 years old man made soils occur in the Brazilian Amazon basin and other regions of South America such as Ecuador and Peru but also in Western Africa (Benin, Liberia) and in the savannas of South Africa. Terra Preta soils are very popularby the local farmers and are used especially to produce cash crops such as papaya and mango, which grow about three times as rapid as on surrounding infertile soils.



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