The UF study suggests that climate warming in the arctic tundra may cause the release of much more carbon dioxide than previously expected. Even though plants grew more, and more carbon was stored in plants and in the surface of the soil, the whole ecosystem did not gain carbon. Instead, it lost a tremendous amount from the deepest soil layers, probably because increased nitrogen accelerated the breakdown of soil carbon. Credit: Ted Schuur
This colorful image of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Beaufort Sea was acquired by the Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer on August 16, 2000. The Refuge encompasses a variety of arctic and subarctic ecosystems, including coastal lagoons, barrier islands, arctic tundra, and mountainous terrain. Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team
NASA-funded researchers have found that despite their sub-zero temperatures, a warming north may add more carbon to the atmosphere from soil, accelerating climate warming further.
"The 3 to 7 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature predicted by global climate computer models could cause the breakdown of the arctic tundra’s vast store of soil carbon," said Michelle Mack, an ecologist at the University of Florida, Gainsville, Fla., and one of the lead researchers on a study published in last week’s issue of Nature. It would release more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the air than plants are capable of taking in.
The study results suggest that climate warming in the arctic tundra may cause the release of much more carbon dioxide than previously expected. This type of positive feedback will make the Earth’s climate change even more rapidly. The findings were collected in a 20-year experiment of the effects of fertilization on the arctic tundra at the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site near Toolik Lake, Alaska. The National Science Foundation and NASA provided funding for the research.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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