Amy Townsend-Small, a UC assistant professor of geology and geography, shows the effects lawn management techniques have on greenhouse gas production in urban landscapes. She says there's a high energy cost associated with common lawn-care methods such as mowing, irrigation and fertilization due to the processing and transport required for these products and services.
"Landscaping is something everyone can understand," Townsend-Small says. "You probably have your own maintenance routine you do. To make your lawn look nice, you need to use fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide. Depending on the management intensity, lawns could either be a small sink – meaning they store carbon – or a small source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."
Fossil fuels are used to power lawn mowers and trimmers, to pump irrigation water, and to make fertilizers – and all of these activities emit carbon dioxide.
For her research, Townsend-Small monitored the carbon uptake and storage – known as carbon sequestration – in the soil of urban lawns in Los Angeles and Cincinnati. Despite the extreme climate variation between the two regions, she found the lawns had surprisingly similar abilities to absorb carbon and store it in soils. But there's a stark contrast in how those lawns are managed, leading to differences in their ecological impact.