The earth, the soil is hyperventilating thanks to climate change

The earth is the soil contains about twice as much CO2 as the atmosphere of the Earth and escaping faster and faster. Credit: Getty

You know it’s hot out there when even the bottom is hyperventilating.

According to a new study published yesterday (Aug. 1) in the journal Nature, there are about two times as much carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the Earth from the ground, because there is floating around in the atmosphere, and for the last few decades, the underground greenhouse gas is escaping from at an increased rate.

Based on more than 2,000 sources of the climate data from ecosystems around the world, a team of soil scientists found that the rate of the CO2 that is released from the Earth of the soil has increased worldwide by about 1.2 percent in just 25 years — and you can put the blame on warm, hungry microbes.

“We’re talking about a huge amount of carbon,” study co-author Vanessa Bailey, a soil scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state, said in a statement. “Microbes exert a huge influence on the world that is very difficult to measure on such a large scale.”

The breathing of the Earth

Dirt does not actually breathe, of course, but it kind of looks that way, as a small, underground organisms help release the CO2 stored in the plant roots, dead leaves and other natural detritus. Hungry microbes gorge on the delicious carbon stored in plant matter, and then carbon dioxide as a natural byproduct of this feeding, just as you do when you exhaleafter a deep breath.

This process is known as “soil respiration,” and it is an important addition to the photosynthesis — the process by which plants convert CO2, water and light into energy — helps to keep ecosystems all over the world running.

But lately, researchers have found that as the temperatures rise, the micro-organisms in the soil, releasing CO2 faster than plants can snatch it again. Previous studies have indicated that the roots of the trees and some microbes both respire more at higher temperatures (up to a certain point, when the intense heat causes the organisms to stop functioning completely). However, the exact effects of this increase in breathing had never been examined on a global scale until now.

In order to better understand the possible links between rising temperatures and the bottom of the breath, a team of researchers, led by Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the University of Maryland, College Park, examined data from two large international surveys: the Global soil respiration Database and FLUXNET, which collectively attract soil, temperature, rainfall and other data from a network of more than 2,000 sources and about different ecosystems.

The data showed that the rate of global soil respiration was increased by about 1.2 percent in the 25-year window between 1990 and 2014. Most of that growth was due to increased microbial action; the small creatures on the Earth, of the soil are releasing more and more greenhouse gases of our planet’s surface.

The panting of the Earth

While a 1.2 percent may not seem significant on its face, the researchers made it clear that even a modest change such as this is a “massive” ecosystem shift over a relatively short period of time. And while the full effects of this microbial huffing and puffing are difficult to estimate, it is possible that all that extra CO2 will feed a self-intensification of the course of the atmospheric warming and soil respiration over the coming years.

“Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might react to the warming of the earth, these soil changes may contribute to even higher temperatures by a feedback loop,” Bond-Lamberty said in the statement. “The soil all over the world are responding to a warming of the climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.”

The study has a number of limitations, the authors stated. The data analyzed comes mainly from studies of the Northern Hemisphere, and only smear surveys of the high-Arctic regions and in the tropics, so does not give a full picture of the soil. It is also very difficult to tease out cause and effect in an observational study like this, the authors wrote, so further analysis of ecosystems all over the world is required.

Originally published on Live Science.


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