Carbon Stored in Himalayan River Basin Soils Surprisingly Old, With Future Climate Implications

© Valier Galy/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

I admit this one may be a bit wonky, but hang in there with me; it's really pretty interesting. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have determined that in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin of South Asia soils store carbon for a much longer time than expected.

Other than an inherently interesting discovery, this has potentially serious consequences for more severe warming at some future point — even though these soils aren't really contributing much to current climate change.

Now that future point is likely not decades away, or perhaps even centuries, "but over a longer time scale, tens of thousands of years, in can be important," WHOI's Valier Galy says.

The scientists though that they would've found the carbon in these soils would have been pretty young, because of the region's high rate of erosion and sediment transport. But instead, they found that organic carbon in the basin is anywhere from 500-17,000 years old, with the oldest age of soil carbon in the Gangetic floodplain being from 1,500-3,000 years old.

The climate connection, again from Valier Galy:

Our study shows that ancient soil carbon exists in a globally significant tropical system...similar stocks of ancient carbon may exist elsewhere at low latitude. Global warming would likely destabilize this ancient carbon, generating an extra flux of CO2 to the atmosphere, hence further warming.

Tags: Carbon Sequestration | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Science | India | Nepal