Scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough have published research findings in the prestigious journal, Nature Geoscience, that show global warming actually changes the molecular structure of organic matter in soil.
“Soil contains more than twice the amount of carbon than does the atmosphere, yet, until now, scientists haven’t examined this significant carbon pool closely,” says Myrna J. Simpson, principal investigator and Associate Professor of Environmental Chemistry at UTSC. “Through our research, we’ve sought to determine what soils are made up of at the molecular level and whether this composition will change in a warmer world.”
Soil organic matter is what makes dirt fertile and able to support plant life – both of which are especially important for agriculture. Organic matter retains water in the soil and prevents erosion. Natural processes of decomposition of soil organic matter provide plants and microbes with the energy source and water they need to grow, and carbon is released into the atmosphere as a by-product of this process. Warming temperatures are expected to speed up this process which will increase the amount of CO2 that is transferred to the atmosphere.
“From the perspective of agriculture, we can’t afford to lose carbon from the soil because it will change soil fertility and enhance erosion” says Simpson. “Alternatively, consider all the carbon locked up in permafrost in the Arctic. We also need to understand what will happen to the stored carbon when microbes become more active under warmer temperatures.”
Until Simpson’s research, scientists didn’t know much about soil’s molecular composition. Part of the reason is that, from a chemical perspective, soil is difficult to analyze due to its many components, including bacteria, fungi and an array of fresh, partially degraded, or old plant material. Simpson’s team, which includes research collaborators Professors Dudley Williams and Andre Simpson, is uniquely positioned to address this new frontier. The team uses a NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) facility - the only NMR facility in Canada specifically dedicated to environmental research – to gain a detailed view of soil’s molecular structure and reactivity.
In their current study, Simpson’s team used an outdoor field experiment in the valley behind the UTSC campus to ensure natural ecosystem processes were preserved. Electrodes warmed the test soil between three and six degrees through winter and summer seasons, over a 14-month period. Throughout the test period, the team analyzed the molecular composition of soil samples.
Laura Matthews | Newswise Science News
In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy