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article imageSoil microbes can help tackle climate change

By Tim Sandle     Nov 22, 2014 in Environment
Researchers have developed a new climate change modeling tool. The tool shows that carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, as result of greater plant growth can be offset by changes in the activity of soil microbes.
Soils contain more carbon than all of Earth's plant biomass and atmosphere combined. Research suggests that the chemicals and microorganisms in the rhizosphere (the soil that surrounds roots) is one of the reasons for increased carbon emissions.
Global simulations, run through computer software, showed that microbial activity in response to enhanced root activity under rising carbon dioxide levels has led to a loss of global soil carbon stocks. The occurs most strongly in North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa, while gains in soil carbon capture were greatest in boreal North America, Siberia and tropical South America.
The research model showed that root-microbe interactions protects carbon in soils where cold temperatures slow-down the rate of decomposition. However, rapid decomposition is triggered by warm temperatures. This means that the accumulation of carbon is not protected from microbial decomposers. Therefore, warming temperatures can lead to more carbon leaving he soil and entering the atmosphere as temperatures rise.
Essentially, the researchers argue that studying microorganisms in the soil is key to any predictions about climate change. Lead researcher, associate professor Richard P. Phillips, notes in a research note: β€œTo not consider how microbes influence soil carbon in offsetting ways, promoting losses through enhanced decomposition but gains by protecting soil carbon, would lead to overestimates or underestimates of the role soils play in influencing global climate.”
The computer software has the frightening name of CORPSE, which is an acronym for Carbon, Organisms, Rhizosphere and Protection in the Soil Environment.
The tool was developed by the Indiana University, Princeton University and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change, in a paper headed β€œMicrobe-driven turnover offsets mineral-mediated storage of soil carbon under elevated CO2.”
It should be noted that this finding contrasts with another strand of research reported on by Digital Journal. Here scientists argue that higher temperatures lead to the soil microbes growing faster, but they also die faster. The net result could be less carbon emitted.
More about Soil, Bacteria, Climate change, Temperature, Carbon
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