Peat Moss May Save The Earth From Runaway Climate Change

The Gaia hypothesis proposes a fantastic means exists for keeping the earth stable enough for life, in part reliant on climate controls exerted by living organisms. As Wikipedia says: "...living and nonliving parts of the earth are viewed as a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism. Named after the Greek earth goddess, this hypothesis postulates that all living things have a regulatory effect on the Earth's environment that promotes life overall." A newly documented climate-positive plant succession has been documented that is consistent with Gaia, and suggests there is hope for a more stable Climate future.

"The thawing of vast stretches of Canadian permafrost -- widely seen as a "ticking time bomb" of climate change because of its expected liberation of billions of tonnes of pent-up methane and carbon dioxide -- may be much less of a threat than previously believed, according to a new U.S. study of freshly unfrozen peat lands across Western Canada's northern frontier.

Although the melting of underlying permafrost will release huge amounts of the greenhouse gases blamed for fueling global warming, researchers who sampled three sites in boreal Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have discovered that the warmer, softer, wetter soil that results also promotes the growth of new mosses that capture and store about as much carbon from the atmosphere as the thawed ground releases."This can only be good news...coming while we have been quite short of encouraging signs for the future of earth. And, it underscores how important it is to conserve the vast peat land resources of the far north -instead of mindlessly squandering them with oil extracting enterprises. Plus it gives Rush Limbaugh some fodder for attacking Chicken Little environmentalists 'who were wrong again about climate change,' and allowing him to push the good news: never give up; it's always worth trying to make things better.

Full abstract of the paper, as published in Blackwell Synergy, Global Change Biology, is presented below.
Via:: Canwest, National Post. Image credit:: peat moss, Royal Alberta Museum

The disappearance of relict permafrost in boreal north America: Effects on peatland carbon storage and fluxes

* M. R. TURETSKY**Departments of Plant Biology and Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA, ,
* R. K. WIEDER††Department of Biology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA, ,
* D. H. VITT‡‡Department of Plant Biology, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL, USA, ,
* R. J. EVANS§§National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO, USA,
* K. D. SCOTT††Department of Biology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA,

*
*Departments of Plant Biology and Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA, †Department of Biology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA, ‡Department of Plant Biology, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL, USA, §National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO, USA

Correspondence: Merritt Turetsky, tel. +517 353 5554, fax +517 353 1926, e-mail: mrt@msu.edu
Abstract

Boreal peatlands in Canada have harbored relict permafrost since the Little Ice Age due to the strong insulating properties of peat. Ongoing climate change has triggered widespread degradation of localized permafrost in peatlands across continental Canada. Here, we explore the influence of differing permafrost regimes (bogs with no surface permafrost, localized permafrost features with surface permafrost, and internal lawns representing areas of permafrost degradation) on rates of peat accumulation at the southernmost limit of permafrost in continental Canada. Net organic matter accumulation generally was greater in unfrozen bogs and internal lawns than in the permafrost landforms, suggesting that surface permafrost inhibits peat accumulation and that degradation of surface permafrost stimulates net carbon storage in peatlands. To determine whether differences in substrate quality across permafrost regimes control trace gas emissions to the atmosphere, we used a reciprocal transplant study to experimentally evaluate environmental versus substrate controls on carbon emissions from bog, internal lawn, and permafrost peat. Emissions of CO2 were highest from peat incubated in the localized permafrost feature, suggesting that slow organic matter accumulation rates are due, at least in part, to rapid decomposition in surface permafrost peat. Emissions of CH4 were greatest from peat incubated in the internal lawn, regardless of peat type. Localized permafrost features in peatlands represent relict surface permafrost in disequilibrium with the current climate of boreal North America, and therefore are extremely sensitive to ongoing and future climate change. Our results suggest that the loss of surface permafrost in peatlands increases net carbon storage as peat, though in terms of radiative forcing, increased CH4 emissions to the atmosphere will partially or even completely offset this enhanced peatland carbon sink for at least 70 years following permafrost degradation.

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