How More CO2 is Released by Warmer Soils

According to a new study, climate change can cause soils to reach higher temperatures, which could make those soils release additional carbon into the atmosphere.

Warmer temperatures due to climate change could cause soils to release additional carbon into the atmosphere, which can also add to more climate change – but that could diminishes over time,according to the new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study, from University of New Hampshire professor Serita Frey and co-authors from the University of California-Davis and the Marine Biological Laboratory, explores how soil microorganisms respond to temperature and could improve predictions of how climate warming will affect the amount of carbon dioxide released by soils.

The study examined the efficiency of soil organisms under two different scenarios. In the first short-term scenario, these researchers found that warming temperatures had little effect on soils’ ability to use glucose, a simple food source released from the roots of plants. For phenol, a more complex food source common in decomposing wood or leaves, soils showed a 60 percent drop in efficiency at higher temperatures.

“As you increase temperature, you decrease the efficiency – soil microorganisms release more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – but only for the more complex food sources,” Frey explains. “You could infer that as the soil warms, more carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating the climate problem.”

The researchers hypothesize that long-term warming may change the community of soil microorganisms so that it becomes more efficient. Organism adaptation, change in the species that comprise the soils, and/or changes in the availability of various nutrients could result in this increased efficiency.

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