Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Fate of the Forests: Massive Amounts of Charcoal enter the Worlds Oceans

19.04.2013
An international team of researchers, led by Rudolf Jaffé from Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center in Miami and Thorsten Dittmar of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany, has uncovered one of nature’s long-kept secrets — the true fate of charcoal in the world’s soils.

A seemingly ordinary topic, being able to determine the fate of charcoal is critical in helping scientists balance the global carbon budget, which in turn can help understand and mitigate climate change. However, until now, scientists only had scientific guesses as to what happens to charcoal once it’s incorporated into soil. Surprisingly, most were wrong.


Natural fire of boreal forest
Photo by Stefan Doerr, Swansea University

“Most scientists thought charcoal was resistant. They thought, once it’s incorporated into the soils, it would stay there,” Jaffé said. “But if that were the case, the soils would be black.”

Charcoal, or black carbon (BC), is a residue generated by combustion sources including wild fires and the burning of fossil fuels. Most of the charcoal in nature is from wild fires and combustion of biomass in general, according to the authors of this study. When charcoal forms it is typically deposited into the soil.

“From a chemical perspective, no one really thought it dissolves, but it does,” Jaffé said. “It doesn’t accumulate like we had believed for a long time. Rather, it is exported into wetlands and rivers, eventually making its way to the oceans.” Thorsten Dittmar, head of the Max Planck Research Group for Marine Geochemistry at the University Oldenburg in Germany, was also tracing the paths of charcoal, only from an oceanography perspective.

Thorsten Dittmar explains: “To understand the oceans we have to understand also the processes on the land, from where the organic load enters the seas. Therefore, our international team took 174 samples from fresh water sites all over the world like the Amazon River, the Congo, the Yangtze and arctic sites. In these water samples we measured dissolved charcoal. Surprisingly, in any river across the world about 10% of organic carbon that is dissolved in the water came from charcoal. With this robust relationship at hand we were able to use older scientific studies regarding organic carbon flux in rivers and estimated the global flux of dissolved charcoal.”

To map out a much more comprehensive picture, the research teams joined forces, along with researchers from Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Georgia, Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, the USDA Forest Service, and the University of Helsinki in Finland. The collaborative efforts have mapped out the conclusion that charcoal is making its way to the world’s waters. Dittmar comments that “Now, we have shown that fire is probably an integral part of the global carbon cycle”.

This one single discovery, according to Jaffé and co-workers, carries significant implications for bioengineering. The global carbon budget is a balancing act between sources that produce carbon and sinks that remove it. According to the research, the amount of dissolved charcoal transported to the oceans is keeping pace with the total charcoal generated by fires annually on a global scale.

Critical: Biochar carbon sequestration techniques and Climate Change
While the environmental consequences of the accumulation of black carbon in inland waters and the ocean are currently unknown, Jaffé said the team’s findings mean greater consideration must be given to carbon sequestration techniques. Biochar addition to soils is one such technique. Biochar technology is based on vegetation-derived charcoal that is added to agricultural soils as a means to sequester carbon. Although promising in storing carbon, Jaffé points out that as more people implement biochar technology, they must take into consideration the potential dissolution of the charcoal to ensure these techniques are actually environmentally friendly.
Jaffé and Dittmar agree that there are still many unknowns when it comes to the environmental fate of charcoal, and both plan to move on to the next phase of the research. They have proven where the charcoal goes. Now, they want to answer how this happens and what the environmental consequences are.
The authors point out the better scientists can understand the process and the environmental factors controlling it, the better chance they have of developing strategies for carbon sequestration and help mitigate climate change.
More information

Dr. Thorsten Dittmar
Max-Planck-Forschungsgruppe Marine Geochemie
Institut für Chemie und Biologie des Meeres (ICBM)
Carl-von-Ossietzky-Strasse 9-11
D-26129 Oldenburg
Tel.: 0441 798-3602
E-Mail: tdittmar@mpi-bremen.de

Dr. Jutta Niggemann
Max-Planck-Forschungsgruppe Marine Geochemie
Institut für Chemie und Biologie des Meeres (ICBM)
Carl-von-Ossietzky-Strasse 9-11
D-26129 Oldenburg
Tel.: 0441 798-3365
E-Mail: jniggema@mpi-bremen.de

or contact the press officer

Dr. Manfred Schlösser
Max-Planck-Institut für Marine Mikrobiologie
Celsiusstraße 1, D-28359 Bremen, Tel.: 0421 2028-704
E-Mail: mschloes@mpi-bremen.de

Original publication
Global Charcoal Mobilization from Soils via Dissolution and Riverine Transport to the Oceans

Rudolf Jaffé, Yan Ding, Jutta Niggemann, Anssi V. Vähätalo, Aron Stubbins, Robert G.M. Spencer, John Campbell, Thorsten Dittmar. Science 2013. DOI: 10.1126/science.1231476

Involved institutions
Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC), and Department
of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida International University (FIU),
Miami, FL 33199, USA.
Max Planck Research Group for Marine Geochemistry, Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, UniversityOldenburg,
D-29129 Oldenburg, Germany.
Department of Environmental Science, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Biological and Environmental Science, University of Jyväskylä,
40500 Jyväskylä, Finland

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, GA 31411, USA.

Woods Hole Research Center, 149 Woods Hole Road, Falmouth,
MA 02540, USA.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Durham, NH 03824, USA.

Dr. Manfred Schloesser | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpi-bremen.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines
24.04.2017 | Indiana University

nachricht NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>