Soil contributes to climate warming more than expected

February 9, 2010

The climatic warming will increase the carbon dioxide emissions from soil more than previously estimated. This is a mechanism that will significantly accelerate the climate change. Already now the carbon dioxide emissions from soil are ten times higher than the emissions of fossil carbon. A Finnish research group has proved that the present standard measurements underestimate the effect of climate warming on emissions from the soil. 

The error is serious enough to require revisions in climate change estimates. In all climate models, the estimates of emissions from are based on measurements made using this erroneous method. Climate models must be revised so that the largest carbon storage of the land ecosystems will be estimated correctly. The sensitivity of the soil carbon storage to climatic warming will endanger the carbon sink capacity of forests in the future.

Research on the effect of climate change on the release from soil is seriously studied by many research groups around the world. It is known that emissions from soil have a significant influence on the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and thereby on the future climate. However, these studies are usually based on short-term measurements of the carbon dioxide production of soil. According to the results of the Finnish research group, such a method gives systematically  biased estimates on the effects of climate change on the emissions.

The carbon dioxide measured in short-term experiments comes from carbon compounds that are decomposed quickly, but such compounds are not abundant in the soil. Based on radiocarbon measurements, the Finnish research group showed that the more slowly decomposing compounds are much more sensitive to the rise of temperature and that such compounds are abundant in the soil.

The studies in boreal forests showed that from the soil will be up to 50 percent higher than those suggested by the present mainstream method, if the mean temperature will rise as it is estimated, that is, by 5 centigrades before the end of this century, and if the carbon flow to the soil will not increase. An increase of the growth of forest biomass by 100-200 % would compensate the increasing releases from the soil. According to the previous erroneous estimates, a 70-80 % increase of growth would be enough. The difference is significant. Even according to the highest estimates, the growth of forests will only increase by 60 % if the mean temperatures will rise by 5 centigrades.

According to the results, the climatic warming will inevitably lead to smaller carbon storage in soil and to higher carbon dioxide emissions from forests. These emissions will further warm up the climate, and as a consequence the emissions will again increase, This interaction between the carbon dioxide emissions from soil and the warming of climate will accelerate the climate change.

The present underestimate the increase of carbon dioxide emissions from soil in a warmer climate. Thereby they also underestimate the accelerating impact of the largest carbon storage in forests on the climate change. This result is also essential with respect to the climate policy measures concerning forests. The carbon storage of forests is, more than previously assumed, sensitive to climatic warming, and the carbon sink capacity of forests is endangered. To maintain the , the accumulation of organic material in forests should increase. However, this is not compatible with the present bioenergy goals for forests and with the more and more intensive harvesting of biomass in forests.

The research was carried out as cooperation between the Finnish Environment Institute, the Finnish Research Institute and the Dating Laboratory of the Finnish Museum of Natural History at the University of Helsinki. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland and the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation.

Explore further: First-ever 'State of the Carbon Cycle Report' finds troubling imbalance

More information: Karhu, K., Fritze, H., Hämäläinen, K., Vanhala, P., Jungner, H., Oinonen, M., Sonninen, E., Tuomi, M., Spetz, P. & Liski, J. 2010. Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon fractions in boreal forest soil. Ecology 91(2): 370-376.

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1 / 5 (4) Feb 09, 2010
So, soil is bad, models on climate change not bad enough.

perhaps thats why temperatures have gone down.

Either than or Al Gore has been quiet and stopped releasing hot air.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2010
Another brainwashed zombie.

My wife understands what the article says: soil contains more long-acting carbon emitters than previously thought, and trees won't be able to keep up, and the difference is significant enough to change the models.

Evidence, not blather.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2010
Special Commendation is due to the brave Finnish grad student who was responsible for translating the study into "pretty good" English. Too bad it had to be bad news.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2010
One of the most massive repositories of CO2 is located in/under the permafrost in the Arctic, which is why it is being so closely watched. This article was interesting in that it really didn't define soil as it relates to depth or location, so I have to wonder if this is a result of the translation?
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2010
Once the climate models are corrected, how long will it take before they can be certified for use as reliable climate predictors?

It seems like every few months or so, a new discovery drives the need to update the climate models. If no one expects new discoveries to end, climate models seem fated to be in a state of perpetual revision.
not rated yet Feb 11, 2010
Once the climate models are corrected, how long will it take before they can be certified for use as reliable climate predictors?

It seems like every few months or so, a new discovery drives the need to update the climate models. If no one expects new discoveries to end, climate models seem fated to be in a state of perpetual revision.

That's how models work. When you create a model you make a best guess simulation based on what you know to be true and leave every unknown as a variable. You continually adjust the variables and in some cases turn them to fixed constants as you develop a greater amount of information and prowess with the relevant science.

Eventually our models will be as close to perfect as our level of measurement can get them, however, in a field so young and relatively vacant of definitive fact, as climatology is, our models are not expected to be even close.

The problem here is we don't have an atmosphere sized lab to experiment in.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2010
The problem is that the models are consistently underestimating the rate and effect of climate change. Scientists are by nature a conservative bunch (the correct meaning of the word not the jingoistic americanism) so would err on the side of caution, but even so....
not rated yet Feb 12, 2010
We need climate models that are accurate, period. Specifically, accuracy in making predictions (10, 20, 50, 100 years forward). This appears to be a weakness with current models. I am happy to be taxed to improve the climate model state of art, but in exchange, I would like to know what process is used to judge the merits of a given model's predictive power.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2010

did you just admit that you currently have no clue how models are currently judged? Because, if so, you just gained a little respect in my book.
not rated yet Feb 13, 2010
From what I understand models are evaluated based on many criteria, however, to the sceptical side of the discussion the focus is "past predictive ability". Basically there are many who give models no value or merit if they cannot recursively predict past climate when fed with known variables. I think this approach is fairly short sighted.

I can't speak with authority as to how they're currently judged, but I know that the process is fairly robust. There isn't a problem with the models, jsut as there isn't a problem in assuming the world is flat if you don't know any better. It's a matter of measurement and observation. Models are very quickly becomming more and more accurate and predictive as time marches on and our knowledge becomes more complete.

Just for clarity, the flat earth analogy is not a statement on the quality of current models, just an easy to understand comparison that does not speak to the value of modeling or the processes involved.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2010
Thanks, Skeptic_Heretic.

If "past predictive ability" means taking the latest model and input data set and running a simulation from 1990 to present using only input data upto 1990, then it is a deceptive method because the model itself contains "future" information like adjustments to "constants" and new physical processes and interactions only recently understood, as well whatever else it takes to make the past predictions spot-on.

Feb 13, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Feb 13, 2010
Thanks, JayK.

Maybe so. But I think I'll get close enough for my purposes, eventually. One thing I'm beginning to understand is that there really is no standard way to approach this "post-normal" science. I can see how people get emotional from the frustration that occurs from dealing with this new thing. I know I do, but if I were to vent here, it would distract from our goal.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2010
Models without some factors because they are unknown, are little better than a guess.

Climate change at this stage of our understanding is outside the scope of science. To pretend otherwise is to betray the values of the scientific method.

To suggest that the economic future of the human race should rely on guesswork is wholly irresponsible.
2 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2010
Models without some factors because they are unknown, are little better than a guess.

I agree, but just as with our model of the atom, we're continually making the model better and better, albeit still incomplete.
To suggest that the economic future of the human race should rely on guesswork is wholly irresponsible.
I agree here as well. The models are not close enough to suggest anything on the order of rapid change to the social structure of the race. Again, don't discount models entirely, they're vital to our understanding as we cannot experiment on a scale akin to the planet without potentially huge deleterious effects.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2010
Sorry to tell anyone here that still believes, There is no global warming for the last 15 years a key scientist admitted yesterday in a major U-turn.


not rated yet Feb 15, 2010
The Daily Express, the Daily Heil wannabee. His actual quote should be " I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods."
To illustrate this point Dec 2009 has a global temperature mean anomaly of 0.228, January 2010 one of 0.724.
not rated yet Feb 15, 2010
To illustrate this point Dec 2009 has a global temperature mean anomaly of 0.228, January 2010 one of 0.724.
That is a weather comparision, not a trend.

The nazi references are getting tired.

Phil Jones statements can be found here
and here

This is the troubling part:
- Why did you ask a colleague to delete all e-mails relating to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC?

This was an e-mail sent out of frustration at one FOI request that was asking for the e-mail correspondence between the lead authors on chapter six of the Working Group One Report of the IPCC. This is one of the issues which the Independent Review will look at.

To me that reads "In frustration I violated data keeping records, we'll see if I get caught."

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