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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Iceland President Returning to Ohio to Raise Climate Change Awareness

December 1, 2009

WOOSTER, Ohio – Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is returning to Ohio to strengthen the bonds he created with Ohio State University faculty and staff when he visited campus in 2007.

Grimsson will visit Ohio from Dec. 9 to Dec. 13 to continue fostering the relationship between his country and Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Grimsson's visits focus on fostering climate change research and raising awareness of the impacts of land degradation caused by human misuse and natural activity.

He will give a presentation at 1 p.m. on Dec. 10 in Fisher Auditorium at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster. The lecture, "Iceland's Lessons for World Sustainability: Soil as the New Soldier in Fighting Climate Change," is free to the public. A short question-and-answer session will follow the 45-minute lecture.

"President Grimsson is a strong advocate of using soil and terrestrial biota as sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide," said Rattan Lal, an Ohio State University soil scientist with the college's School of Environment and Natural Resources. "President Grimsson considers soil restoration integral to any strategy to mitigating climate change."

Grimsson will also present a lecture, "Climate Change: Global Lessons for the United States. The Iceland Experience of Clean Energy and Soil Services," on Dec. 11 at noon at the Columbus Athletic Club in Columbus. The lecture is sponsored by the Columbus Council of World Affairs and The Ohio State University.

Iceland is a European island in the middle of the northern Atlantic. It's a small nation, with roughly the same land area as Ohio and with a total population of about one-third of that of the city of Columbus, but its contributions to the environment in the way of renewable energy resources is enormous. In its short 63 years of independence, Iceland has shifted its energy dependence from coal and petroleum to renewable energy sources. Today, 70 percent of the country's total energy needs and 100 percent of its electricity are harnessed from geothermal springs and glacier-fed lakes and rivers. Iceland is also a leader in hydrogen power, which fuels the nation's buses and automobiles.

Despite these renewable energy riches, Iceland's interior is a desert, the largest throughout Europe and a source of severe soil erosion caused by centuries of land degradation. The desert has not only made more than one-third of the country uninhabitable, but it is also contributing to carbon loss into the atmosphere -- believed to be one of the chief causes of global warming.

"Iceland is a beautiful country, but it has become so desertified due to soil erosion and denudation that the degraded landscape doesn't look much different than Saharan Africa," said Lal.

Lal is looking at ways to incorporate carbon sequestration in land restoration efforts to reverse a process that began when the Vikings settled the island in the ninth century. Carbon sequestration, also known as carbon farming, refers to the storing of atmospheric carbon in plants and soil so that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reduce or slow. Farmers can also trade soil carbon as a farm commodity to generate extra income.

During his stay, Grimsson also plans to visit the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed in Coshocton on Dec. 12. The facility, established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935, serves as a model for studying soil-water relationships on sloping land and their impacts on crop production.

Lal, director of OARDC's Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, said that on the surface, the issues facing Iceland may not appear as important to citizens of the United States or of other parts of the world, but pointed out that globalization is bringing such environmental impacts closer to home.

"We are linked globally. What is being done in Iceland impacts us and what we do here impacts Iceland," said Lal. "Climate change, whether you believe it is happening or not, is a global issue. Iceland is setting up an example how to become emission-neutral by using soil and biota as natural sinks."

The research collaborations with Iceland are part of Ohio State's Climate, Water and Carbon Program — one of 10 high-impact programs chosen by the university for its Targeted Investment in Excellence (TIE) initiative, a $100 million commitment over five years to address some of society's most pressing challenges.

The program brings together faculty experts from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, the College of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, the College Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Byrd Polar Research Center, and the John Glenn School of Public Affairs.

Candace Pollock
Rattan Lal