Soils May Release Less Carbon Than Thought As World Warms - Yes, That's A Good Thing

cracked red soil photo

photo: Brandon Fick via flickr.

In some tentative (as in, more research is needed) global warming science good news, scientists from UC Irvine, and Colorado State and Yale universities have discovered that microbes in soil begin emitting less CO2 as their environment warms. This contradicts previous studies which anticipated an ever-increasing amount of emissions from soil as average temperatures climb. What the scientists found was that while microbial soil decomposition initially does increase as previous studies predict, they eventually overheat and begin growing more slowly. This results in decreasing amounts of carbon emissions.

Lead researcher Steve Allison of UC Irvine:

Microbes are the engines that drive carbon cycling in soils. In a balanced environment, plants store carbon in the soil and microbes use that carbon to grow. Enzymes produced by microbes convert soil carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide.

When we developed a model based on the actual biology of soil microbes, we found that soil carbon many not be lost to the atmosphere as the climate warms. Conventional ecosystem models that didn't include enzymes did not make the same predictions.

Next steps in the research include studying more microbes and in different ecosystems.

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More on Global Warming Science:
Some Plants Will (Maybe) Benefit From Global Warming, But...
Only 10% of Permafrost Melting Could Tip Planet Towards Catastrophic Warming
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