Participants in the 2019 Estimation of Carbon in Soils workshop at UMBS. Photo: Jacinto Samuel Garcia.

The soils typical of northern Michigan and those of Latin America and the Carribean are, as one might imagine, pretty different. But techniques for measuring carbon content -- and the expertise to pull off these measurements -- translate across international boundaries.

In late June, scientists from Latin America and the Caribbean ventured to the tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula in pursuit of this universal know-how. The week-long “Estimation of Carbon in Soils” workshop, hosted by UMBS Associate Research Scientist Luke Nave, has three main goals: 1) Provide participants with start-to-finish training in the design, execution, interpretation, and reporting of soil carbon, 2) Share experience and expertise among academic and government institutions throughout the Americas, and 3) Develop international collaborative networks.

Nave, center, works on soil coring techniques with two workshop participants. Photo: Jacinto Samuel Garcia.

“Basically, we bring people together to learn approaches, tools, and techniques, and then they take what they learn back to their graduate programs, universities, government agencies, and restoration organizations,” says Nave. “They then apply their knowledge to things like research, monitoring, national forest inventory, and international greenhouse gas reporting.”

This year - the sixth time the workshop has run at UMBS - Nave and his team welcomed 11 participants from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. That adds to the lifetime total of 81 participants from 13 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Since most participants are Spanish speakers, much of Nave’s curriculum is communicated via a translator.

What makes the long journey north worth it? According to Nave: “There is no place in the western hemisphere that can offer what we have here. We have diverse soils, helpful administrators, facilities staff, comfortable housing, dining, medical care, a commercial airport, and unbeatable research infrastructure.”

As for Nave, the benefits are very much mutual.

“The workshop might just be the most rewarding thing I get to do at UMBS. As good as it feels to follow in the footsteps of a hundred years of researchers at this special place, or to pursue my own curiosities through various research projects, this workshop is one thing I get to do where I can see how my results are making the world a more scientific place. People who have participated in this program over the years have actually designed parts of their countries' national forest inventory programs based on what they have learned here, and by bringing people together to develop this international capacity, UMBS extends its global reach.”