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New research reveals soil microbes accelerate global warming
Date:7/13/2011

es more potent than carbon dioxide. Their oxygen-free habit is one of the reasons these microorganisms flourish when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase. Van Groenigen explained: "The higher CO2 concentrations reduce plant water use, making soils wetter, in turn reducing the availability of oxygen in soil, favoring these microorganisms."

The other reason these microorganisms become more active is that increasing CO2 makes plants grow faster, and the extra plant growth supplies soil microorganisms with extra energy, pumping up their metabolism. This extra plant growth is one of the main ways ecosystems could slow climate change. With more CO2, plants grow more, soaking up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and, the hope is that they also lock away carbon in wood and soil. But this new work shows that at least some of that extra carbon also provides fuel to microorganisms whose byproducts, nitrous oxide and methane, end up in the atmosphere and counteract the cooling effects of more plant growth.

"It's an ecological point and counterpoint: the more the plants soak up CO2, the more microbes release these more potent greenhouse gases," said Bruce Hungate, Professor at Northern Arizona University and co-author on the study. "The microbial counterpoint is only partial," continued Hungate, "reducing the cooling effect of plants by about 20%."

But it's an ecological surprise, too, and one that climate models will need to reckon with as they further refine pictures of the climate of the future. "By overlooking the key role of these two greenhouse gases, previous studies may have overestimated the potential of ecosystems to mitigate the greenhouse effect," van Groenigen concluded.


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Contact: Caoimhe Ni Lochlainn
communications@tcd.ie
353-189-62310
Trinity College Dublin
Source:Eurekalert

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