Climate warming may not drive net losses of soil carbon from tropical forests
The planet's soil releases about 60 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, which is far more than that released by burning fossil fuels. This happens through a process called soil respiration. This enormous release of carbon is balanced by carbon coming into the soil system from falling leaves and other plant matter, as well as by the underground activities of plant roots.
Short-term warming studies have documented that rising temperatures increase the rate of soil respiration. As a result, scientists have worried that global warming would accelerate the decomposition of carbon in the soil, and decrease the amount of carbon stored there. If true, this would release even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would accelerate global warming.
New work by a team of scientists including Carnegie's Greg Asner and Christian Giardina of the U.S. Forest Service used an expansive whole-ecosystem study, the first of its kind, on tropical montane wet forests in Hawaii to sort through the many processes that control soil carbon stocks with changing temperature. Their work is published in Nature Climate Change.
The team revealed that higher temperatures increased the amount of leaf litter falling onto the soil, as well as other underground sources of carbon such as roots. Surprisingly, long-term warming had little effect on the overall storage of carbon in the tropical forest soil or the rate at which that carbon is processed into carbon dioxide.
"If these findings hold true in other tropical regions, then warmer temperatures may not necessarily cause tropical soils to release their carbon to the atmosphere at a faster rate," remarked Asner. "On the other hand, we cannot expect that the soil will soak up more carbon in places where vegetation is stimulated by warmer temperatures. Unlike tropical trees, the soil seems to be on the sidelines in the climate adaptation game."
This means the observed increase in the rate of soil respiration accompanying rising temperatures is due to carbon dioxide released by the an uptick in the amount of litter falling on the forest floor and an increase in carbon from underground sources. It is not from a decrease in the overall amount of carbon stored in the soil.
Giardina noted "While we found that carbon stored in the mineral soil was insensitive to long-term warming, the loss of unprotected carbon responded strongly to temperature. This tells us that the sensitivity of each source of soil respiration needs to be quantified, and the aggregate response examined, before an understanding of ecosystem carbon balance in a warmer world can be achieved."
This work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the USDA Forest Service, and the Carnegie Institution for Science.
The Carnegie Airborne Observatory is made possible by the Avatar Alliance Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, W. M. Keck Foundation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Mary Anne Nyburg Baker and G. Leonard Baker Jr., and William R. Hearst III.
The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC, with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Greg Asner | Eurek Alert!
World’s oldest known oxygen oasis discovered
18.01.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
A close-up look at an uncommon underwater eruption
11.01.2018 | Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy