Losses of soil carbon under global warming might equal US emissions

November 30, 2016
Credit: Mick Lissone/public domain

For decades scientists have speculated that rising global temperatures might alter the ability of soils to store carbon, potentially releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and triggering runaway climate change. Yet thousands of studies worldwide have produced mixed signals on whether this storage capacity will actually decrease—or even increase—as the planet warms.

It turns out scientists might have been looking in the wrong places.

A new Yale-led study in the journal Nature finds that warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, or about 17% more than the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. That would be roughly the equivalent of adding to the planet another industrialized country the size of the United States.

Critically, the researchers found that carbon losses will be greatest in the world's colder places, at high latitudes, locations that had largely been missing from previous research. In those regions, massive stocks of carbon have built up over thousands of years and slow microbial activity has kept them relatively secure.

Most of the previous research had been conducted in the world's temperate regions, where there were smaller carbon stocks. Studies that focused only on these regions would have missed the vast proportion of potential carbon losses, said lead author Thomas Crowther, who conducted his research while a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

"Carbon stores are greatest in places like the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, where the soil is cold and often frozen," Crowther said. "In those conditions microbes are less active and so carbon has been allowed to build up over many centuries.

"But as you start to warm, the activities of those microbes increase, and that's when the losses start to happen," Crowther said. "The scary thing is, these cold regions are the places that are expected to warm the most under climate change."

The results are based on an analysis of raw data on stored soil carbon from dozens of studies conducted over the past 20 years in different regions of the world.

The study predicts that for one degree of warming, about 30 petagrams of soil carbon will be released into the atmosphere, or about twice as much as is emitted annually due to human-related activities (A petagram is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms). This is particularly concerning, Crowther said, because previous climate studies predicted that the planet is likely to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

Other scientists on the team include Mark Bradford, professor of terrestrial ecosystem ecology at Yale; Clara Rowe, who earned a Master of Environmental Management degree at Yale in 2015; and Yale doctoral candidate Noah Sokol, as well as collaborating researchers from more than 30 other institutions.

For Bradford, the analysis provides important clarity on the question of why soil-warming studies appear to provide contradictory evidence, with some showing losses of soil carbon and some showing no change.

"The effects are strongly dependent on where you look," Bradford said. "Now that we know this, we can begin to develop more confidence in the idea that this biological feedback is real, and hence likely to accelerate human-induced climate change."

The study considered only soil carbon losses in response to warming. There are several other biological processes—such as accelerated plant growth as a result of dioxide increases—that could dampen or enhance the effect of this feedback. Understanding these interacting processes at a global scale is critical to understanding , the researchers said.

"Getting a handle on these kinds of feedbacks is essential if we're going to make meaningful projections about future climate conditions," said Crowther, who is now completing a Marie Curie Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

Explore further: Study finds limited sign of soil adaptation to climate warming

More information: T. W. Crowther et al, Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming, Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature20150

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CCMcCombs
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 30, 2016
triggering runaway climate change
Citation required please. 'Haven't seen a single piece of published evidence that points to a runaway climate change.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2016
LOL
The Pathological Lies of the AGW Cult and their Pathological "science", so desperate to see their prophesies of doom and gloom come true, despite reality's defiance.
NASA squandered millions of your tax dollars in their failed attempt to find this in Alaska.
http://phys.org/n...ane.html
mynamehear
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 30, 2016
triggering runaway climate change
Citation required please. 'Haven't seen a single piece of published evidence that points to a runaway climate change.


I have yet to see a reputable science backed article that points to climate change of current scale being anything but man made. Please cite.
oopsidokey
1 / 5 (9) Nov 30, 2016
Well, in part, for sure, climate change is man made. In part it's natural variation. But then again, is humanity not part of nature? Are we not mammals? Is the current rise of temperatures, and the current rise of C02 really outside of the variations observed/occuring within the last couple billions of years? Is it really all that bad to require a constant preaching of "end-of-world-fire-brimstone" horrors? The puritanical attitude of environmentalists reminds me of "prohibition", "eugenics", or the manipulation of science by politics seen in Nazi, Soviet, totalitarian societies, as well as "McCarthyism". And why this great reluctance to provide practical, workable solutions? Environmentalists will rather build a temple to the "rain gods", or have you die of thirst, than build a single aquaduct to help a drought. Is there research into finding natural plants that are faster, better in taking up C02? No, that would be way too practical.
entrance
2.7 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2016
I think, Earth functions like a controller. If it get's warmer, Earth tries to compensate this, by melting ice and letting plants grow faster.

But unfortunatelly we have already an overpopulation problem, and the human world population is still growing. Have a look at https://upload.wi...2000.png The more people we are, the more habitat we need. We need it for buildings, streets and fields. That's why deforestation occurs all over the world.

And this is really very dangerous. Deforestation affects the functionality of the Earth-temperature-controller in a bad way.

We should really try to reduce the world population. This would solve a lot of problems. I am ready to help.
entrance
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2016
Is the current rise of temperatures, and the current rise of C02 really outside of the variations observed/occuring within the last couple billions of years? Is it really all that bad to require a constant preaching of "end-of-world-fire-brimstone" horrors?


Some weeks ago a scientific website published a really very interesting article, which showed the Earth's temperatures of a really very long perion. There have been 2 or 3 thresholdes. And by approximatelly 2050 we will exceed the hottest-ever-threshold. So, yes, it is really all that bad.
axemaster
5 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2016
By the way guys, in case you haven't noticed, that sound you're hearing is the entire planet singing "You're fucked ~♬~ ".

I really want to thank all the retarded conspiracy theorists for bringing us to this point! Your confident, unwavering ineptitude is what brought us to this point! Thank you, one and all!

Antialias Physorg, please feel free to chime in any time with something positive. I'm feeling pretty depressed right now :(
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2016
Antialias Physorg, please feel free to chime in any time with something positive. I'm feeling pretty depressed right now

I'm not sure there is much to be positive about. People are stupid and want themselves (and their kids) to live in misery, I guess. They also want to pay a lot of taxes for relocating entire cities and building all kinds of dams to stave off rising sea levels (as well as paying ever higher prices for food at the store due to droughts and fighting off hordes of people that are fleeing regions where human life can no longer be supported)

Some just want to live in that kind of a world. Why beats me, though.
Maybe because they hope it will drive people towards their particular religion in search of salvation from the plights? Who knows? You can't really look inside the mind of the terminally insane.
entrance
4 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2016
rising sea levels

I think, the topic "rising sea level" will become very interesting in the near future. I think, some cities will be affected, some not. It will depend on the tectonic plates.

For example the "South American Plate": The left half is above sea level, the right half is below sea level. If the amount of water increases, the oceans gets heavier. That's why the "South American Plate" will tilt. I think, that some Brasilian cities like Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro will be affected by this problem in some decades.
CCMcCombs
2 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2016


I have yet to see a reputable science backed article that points to climate change of current scale being anything but man made. Please cite.


You changed the subject. First, if you get a chance please find a paper that can supply evidence for triggering runaway climate change. As of now it is an unsupported claim. Then, I will post several theories for causal influence of natural variation on the climate system.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2016
I think, some cities will be affected, some not.

Since a lot of major cities are where rivers meet the sea (for historic reasons) moving even one such city will cause more costs than the very modest investment we would have to do now to alleviate the problem. (Not to mention the myriad of other benefits we would reap from that investment - which no one seems to want. Search me why.)

"...an ounce of prevention..." and all that. But looking around there are very few people capable of enough thought to take this to heart. Not even in their personal lives. So I don't expect such a capability to be much developed when it comes to global issues.

The hope was that politicians are 'smarter' (or could be wisened up by smarter people). But it seems that they are too much invested into their personal little wars and shortsighted profit maximization schemes to care.
RichManJoe
Dec 01, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
bschott
1 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2016
I really want to thank all the retarded conspiracy theorists for bringing us to this point!


So you believe global economics and national policies of all countries have been dictated by the "conspiracy theorists" , that the current state of the world arose from THAT source???? And that is why the world is singing "You're fucked".....

Sorry Axe, but if that's what you believe then the world is singing that song to you because of it...if you meant something different I apologize.

If you want to assign blame - Point your finger at every person/organization that made money while contributing to the "current state of the world". Look around your house at what you own and remember to point your finger at the mirror .... I do. The pursuit of monetary and material wealth are the sole drivers of the desire for a constantly growing economy, hence they are the drivers of pollution, deforestation, species loss....war.
Sorry earth, for my contribution to this.
antigoracle
Dec 01, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
bschott
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2016

I blame your parents for creating an idiot.

The whole family does, including me. That's why you aren't invited to Christmas dinner anymore bro....

antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2016

I blame your parents for creating an idiot.

The whole family does, including me. That's why you aren't invited to Christmas dinner anymore bro....


LOL.
How unsurprising the idiot cannot recognize himself.
bschott
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2016

I blame your parents for creating an idiot.

The whole family does, including me. That's why you aren't invited to Christmas dinner anymore bro....


LOL.
How unsurprising the idiot cannot recognize himself.

And keeps posting about it too apparently....
antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2016

I blame your parents for creating an idiot.

The whole family does, including me. That's why you aren't invited to Christmas dinner anymore bro....


As, usual the idiot does not even consider how much that Christmas dinner contributes to his "polluting" the earth, but of course believes that crying about it gives him moral superiority, instead of just revealing what a jackass he is.
PS: The family apologizes for dropping you as a baby.... repeatedly.
howhot3
5 / 5 (3) Dec 01, 2016
Hay there @antigoracle; Your bullying and don't deserve to eye time with your crap. Stick to the article's subject matter please.

Now that has been said; I think this is the first signal that global warming is the most immediate and dangerous problem facing humans ever in our history since ever. An just to make it clear to the denier goon squad, I mean it's the worst situation that we have ever faced... ever! The denier goon squad will say anything to deflect the science presented to them in plain simple language, and to compound the issue, like a religion, they want you to believe their fiction.

As we've seen in Tennessee, wildfires from global warming drought conditions isn't just a California issue. Global warming is an equal opportunity destroyer. The release of carbon from baked dry soil occurs a lot faster when the forests are burned to dust from raging wild fires. But old bucktooth @antigore-em is probably fine in his beat up old pickup.

antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Dec 01, 2016
Hay there @antigoracle...hee...hawww...

Look what his man crush, Al, pooped out and what a surprise he is seeing wildfires and drought. Tell us, howshat, did you get a peek at Al's pool? Did the drought affect it?
As for the article, read what a pathological lie it is.
NASA squandered millions of your tax dollars in their failed attempt to find this in Alaska.
http://phys.org/n...ane.html
snoosebaum
not rated yet Dec 01, 2016
explain GW to me , here is the official version from Realclimate ;

What happens if we add more carbon dioxide? In the layers so high and thin that much of the heat radiation from lower down slips through, adding more greenhouse gas molecules means the layer will absorb more of the rays. So the place from which most of the heat energy finally leaves the Earth will shift to higher layers. Those are colder layers, so they do not radiate heat as well. The planet as a whole is now taking in more energy than it radiates (which is in fact our current situation). As the higher levels radiate some of the excess downwards, all the lower levels down to the surface warm up.

but they start by saying that Angstroms old experiment was wrong , because there were more layers [ more tubes , to put it in terms of angstroms experiment] , but then they say this

'' adding more greenhouse gas molecules means the layer will absorb more of the rays. ''

but angstrom showed that isn't true ,,

snoosebaum
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2016
bschott
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2016
As, usual the idiot does not even consider how much that Christmas dinner contributes to his "polluting" the earth

Only an idiot would consider preparing and consuming a meal pollution, well done.
but of course believes that crying about it gives him moral superiority

Why were you crying? Did you shake your head to imitate a rattlesnake?
instead of just revealing what a jackass he is.

Actually, you flaunt it.
PS: The family apologizes for dropping you as a baby.... repeatedly.

Your memories of your early childhood are just as funny when you project them upon someone else....I'm trying to work out whether you bounced or just splatted like a spoonful of mashed potatoes.
P.S. I wasn't supposed to tell you but they deliberately threw you when you thought you were just being dropped....it's what happens to "biters"....

howhot3
5 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2016
Hay there @antigoracle...hee...hawww...

Look what his man crush, Al, pooped out and what a surprise he is seeing wildfires and drought. Tell us, howshat, did you get a peek at Al's pool? Did the drought affect it?
As for the article, read what a pathological lie it is.
NASA squandered millions of your tax dollars in their failed attempt to find this in Alaska.
http://phys.org/n...ane.html

And so your Al-Gore anti-daemon is pooping out what? A pathological lie? Exactly how, and can you explain what you mean further. Regarding NASA, you need to check out http://nasa.gov while you can unfiltered by censorship.

antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2016
And so your Al-Gore anti-daemon is pooping out what

I suggest you stick your head back up there, before reality shines on you.
https://www.googl...ypocrisy
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Dec 02, 2016
Only an idiot would consider preparing and consuming a meal pollution, well done.

@bshat
LOL.
The idiot as usual brays like the jackass he is about modern society polluting the world, and how unsurprising it's beyond him to realize it's those very conveniences of modern society that provides that meal and him stuffing his stupid face with it.
entrance
not rated yet Dec 04, 2016
I had contact with a geologist. He told me, that it is not possible that such a large plate like the "South American Plate" could tilt. Large plates are rather flexible. Sorry for my wrong comment. But i still don't know, whether a small plate like the "Indian Plate" could tilt.

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