Science: Smoking Grass


An ancient technique for enriching soil could revolutionize farming and curb climate change


By Ben Whitford



Photo by Mingxin Guo and students, Deleware State University

In 1542, Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana returned from the New World with tales of bustling cities lining the banks of the Amazon River. “They have a great wealth of gold and silver,” wrote his chronicler, “and great cities of white stone glistening in the sun.” But when missionaries retraced Orellana’s steps a century later, they found no sign of the settlements he’d described. Even the soil seemed to contradict his claims; it was yellowish and barren, apparently incapable of sustaining more than a few scattered bands of hunter-gatherers.

 

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Issue 25



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