Global warming plus natural bacteria could release vast carbon deposits currently stored in Arctic soil

May 06, 2005

Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make global temperatures rise. By studying soil cores from the Arctic, scientists have discovered that this rise in temperature stimulates the growth of microorganisms that can break down long-term stores of carbon, releasing them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This will lead to further increases in global temperatures.

Carbon is held in soil either in material that is easily degraded by chemical and bacterial action (labile soil carbon), or in material that is less easily degraded by microorganisms (resistant soil carbon). About one third of the world’s soil carbon is located in high latitudes such as the Arctic, and much of this effectively locked away in recalcitrant stores.

If this carbon were ever released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the concentration of this ‘green-house gas’ would increase considerably, leading to a substantial increase in global warming.

The question that researchers in Austria, Russia and Finland asked was whether increasing global temperatures that are already predicted could enable micro organisms to use this carbon. Their results are published in this week’s edition of Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.

The researchers incubated soil cores at 2oC, 12oC and 24oC. They found that resistant soil carbon was preferentially respired by arctic microbes at higher temperatures, presumably due to a shift in microbial populations.

They also found that the change in the relative proportion of different microorganisms in the soil was not driven by a depletion of more readily available carbon, but simply by the change in temperature.

“This temperature driven change in availability of resistant carbon is of crucial importance in the context of climate change,” says co-author Andreas Richter who works at the Institute of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the University of Vienna, Austria. “It may be that the whole idea of ‘resistant carbon compounds’ in arctic soils may only be relevant within a cool world and have no place in a future warmer world.”

Source: John Wiley & Sons

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Confucian thought and China's environmental dilemmas

Dec 18, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that China - the world's most populous country - is an inveterate polluter, that it puts economic goals above conservation in every instance. So China's recent moves toward an apparent ...

Wetlands more vulnerable to invasives as climate changes

Dec 09, 2014

In the battle between native and invasive wetland plants, a new Duke University study finds climate change may tip the scales in favor of the invaders—but it's going to be more a war of attrition than a frontal assault.

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.