Bringing life back to our soils

33% of the Earth's soils are already degraded and over 90% could become degraded by 2050 (FAO and ITPS, 2015; IPBES, 2018)

 

Today, deserted areas occupy about 6 million km2 of land surface globally and increase at a speed of 80,000 km2 yearly

 

The fight against desertification using biological soil crusts, creates massive and long-term CO2 sinks and forms the basis for higher plants in a sustainable way without negative impacts on the environment

 

GREEN Earth Program Timeline

Our solution is supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals

GREEN Earth Program

Green Earth Program

Reversing desertification with green-engineering technologies and earth observation

Program established by Blue Horizon in 2022 along with our first pilot test in Western Africa, Burkina Faso

  • Reverse desertification, bring back vegetation to areas that have lost vegetation coverage
  • Provide a means for successful afforestation projects and a sustainable greener future
  • Develop technologies respecting the ecosystem functionality and soil biodiversity
  • Customize biomatrices that are in line with the environment and soil biota

 

“Desertification is not the natural expansion of existing deserts but the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is a gradual process of soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover because of human activities and climatic variations" (UNCCD 2020)

12 million ha degraded per year (IPBES report 2018)

1.6 billion ha affected worldwide (FAO)

3.2 billion people negatively impacted (FAO, IPBES report 2018)

 

Desertification on the microscopic level:

  • Reduced soil biota, just a few different species → loss of biodiversity and loss of ecosystem functionality
  • Disturbed N and C cycles
  • Worldwide decreasing baseline of Soil Organic Carbon → loss of soil health

 

 

Green Earth Program

  • Boost the program through international partnerships/cooperations and the Green Earth Community
  • Feature key thought-leaders contribution to the central topic of Biological Soil Crusts and their contribution for the reduction of desertification and mitigating climate change by acting as carbon sinks
  • Develop and promote broad programs around induced Biological Soil Crusts and their large-scale application to reduce desertification
  • Discuss and implement follow on programs on ecosystem restoration

Our Technology

Induced Biological Soil Crusts

What are Biological Soil Crusts (BSC)?

„Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) result from an intimate association between soil particles and differing proportions of photoautotrophic (e.g. cyanobacteria, algae, lichens, bryophytes) and heterotrophic (e.g. bacteria, fungi, archaea) organisms, which live within, or immediately on top of, the uppermost millimetres of soil. Soil particles are aggregated through the presence and activity of these often extremotolerant biota that desiccate regularly, and the resultant living crust covers the surface of the ground as a coherent layer."

Weber et. al. (2022) "What is a biocrust? A refined, contemporary definition for a broadening research community" Biological Reviews,  …

 

Functions of Biological Soil Crusts

BSCs as an Enabler for Ecosystem Development and Restoration

  • BSCs are pioneer communities, paving the way for re-vegetation of degraded soils
  • BSCs are composed of pioneer microorganisms acting as kick-starters for soil formation processes
  • BSCs are major terrestrial players in global C and N cycles
  • Mechanical stabilization protecting soils against wind and water erosion
  • Increasing water retention capacity of soils by forming a polymer matrix

 

  • Customized mix forming induced biological soil crusts on target areas
  • Kick-off for a natural succession of vegetation and soil formation
  • Increase of organic carbon on mineral soils
  • Creation of terrestrial carbon sinks
  • Nature-based CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) method

EARTH OBSERVATION

Earth observation and remote sensing techniques are revolutionizing the way we understand our planet

Anthropogenic activity is accelerating the degradation of Earth’s natural environment. Remote sensing has developed into a vital geospatial technology and has become an integral tool for understanding the Earth and managing human impact on it.

Earth Observation Aim: Support the Application and Monitoring of the Biomatrix

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2021, processed by ESA. Source of the data: Copernicus Open Access Hub.

 

Earth observation techniques support the Green Earth project through:

  • Detecting degraded areas, which are suitable to apply the biomatrix
  • Assessing the status of desertification in a particular location
  • Identifing the most appropriate time window to spread the mixture
  • Monitoring the success of the treatment once applied
  • Monitoring the climate of the treated areas to provide irrigation when necessary

 

Examples of suitable areas are displayed below.

 

Land Degradation Mapping – identifying suitable areas to apply the biomatrix

In order to find suitable areas to apply the treatment, first degraded land is identified through satellite imagery. Thereafter, unwanted areas are excluded, including water bodies, infrastructure and steep slopes. Furthermore, additional parameters (e.g. climatological and geophysical) are considered to further assess the suitability of the individually selected areas.

 

Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2021, processed by ESA. Source of the data: Copernicus Open Access Hub.

Success Monitoring

Monitoring the success of our treatment areas from outer space

Assessing the success of the spread biomatrix is an important step in monitoring the biocrust development. Remote sensing techniques enable the observation of the success of the biomatrix. Hyperspectral data improves the accuracy of detecting the specific biological soil crust.

Examples of high resolution hyperspectral imagery of our developed crust (left to right: Crust 1 - RGB, SWIR, VNIR; Crust 2 - RGB, SWIR, VNIR):

End-To-End Solution

Identify

The initial step is to identify degraded areas to apply the biomatrix. Satellite as well as geospatial data is analyzed to reveal only areas which meet the biological mix's requirements. Climatological and geophysical variables, as well as exclusions factors are considered, to classify the suitable areas and to maximize the success of the treatment. Not only are the most suitable areas identified, but also the type of treatment and the best time window to apply it. Therefore, climatological patterns are examined and to detect when irrigation of the treated areas is necessary.

Analyze

The second step is to analyze physico-chemical and biological soil parameters to characterize the target area. The water retention capacity (pF), soil particle size distributions (soil texture) and porosity, pH values, cation exchange capacity (CEC), nitrogen contents and soil organic carbon (SOC) content are examples of physico-chemical parameters that describe the degradation status and thus susceptibility to erosion and the status of available soil nutrients for plant growth.

Furthermore, the analysis of biological parameters on the genomic level helps  to identify endemic species and consortia that are naturally present in the target area.

The values provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of the soils and serve as a starting point for the customization of the biomass mix.

Produce

The third step is the local production of the unique biomass mix in scalable, energy- and cost-efficient raceway pond cultures. The biocrust mix is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pathogens and toxins which is monitored throughout the cultivation process. The prior analysis allows to adapt the crust formers to the local conditions on site and leads to faster colonization of degraded soils. Power for cultivation is emission-free generated in-situ by photovoltaic and/or wind energy. During cultivation, CO2 is captured from the atmosphere, thus generating a carbon sink already during production.

Treat

In a fourth step the soil is treated with the final formulated mix. A dedicated layering is done to ensure optimal colonization and growth of the cultures. The formulation of the matrix supports high resistance against desiccation and facilitates crust formation within considerable time.

Monitor

As a final step, the success of the treatment can be monitored using earth observation data, where specific spectral signatures unique to the developed soil crusts are observed. The spectral profiles of the biomatrix in the visible near-infrared and shortwave infrared are acquired through spectrometer readings. Additionally, the vegetation success of the treated areas will be monitored over time.

Selected key success parameters are analyzed which indicate the stage of transformation from the initial condition of the soils. These include but are not limited to the water retention capacity, mechanical stability, nitrogen content and C/N ratio, SOC and others. Aside from this, crust communities are characterized on the genomic level to monitor long-term stability and the sere in ecological development from pioneer to climax community.

Welcome to Green Earth Community

  • Pilot Burkina Faso
  • News
  • First Induced Biocrusts on our Pilot Sites in Burkina Faso

Members:

  • Academics, University Labs, Research Institutes
  • Algae Industry and other Technological / Biological suppliers
  • NGO’s, Non-Profits, Foundations
  • Industry Associations
  • VC’s/Private Equity/Capital
  • Other Thought Leaders
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Purpose and scope of the Green Earth community

The Green Earth Community aims to advance the knowledge and application of technologies based on induced biological soil crusts (iBSCs) for reversing desertification. The larger scale application of BSC technology will help land managers and governments to fight desertification which will be for the benefit of life on Earth. The community will identify key areas related to the large-scale application of BSC technology and the production of carbon sinks enabling the regrowth of natural vegetation.

- Feature key thought-leaders contribution to the central topic of Biological Soil Crusts and their contribution for the reduction of desertification and mitigating of climate change by acting as carbon sinks

- Develop and promote broad programs around induced Biological Soil Crusts and their large-scale application to reduce desertification

- Discuss and implement follow on programs on ecosystem restoration

Team

Jochen Harms
Geographer

Ines Wagner
Bioprocess Engineer

Martin Cerff
Bioprocess Engineer

Olga Spang
Remote Sensing
and GIS Specialist

Jessica Friedrichs
Remote Sensing
and GIS Specialist

Pia Swatkowski
Bioprocess Engineer

Marvin Braun
Bioprocess Engineer