Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Warming could free far more carbon from high Arctic soil than earlier thought


Scientists studying the effects of carbon on climate warming are very likely underestimating, by a vast amount, how much soil carbon is available in the high Arctic to be released into the atmosphere, new University of Washington research shows.

A three-year study of soils in northwest Greenland found that a key previous study greatly underestimated the organic carbon stored in the soil. That’s because the earlier work generally looked only at the top 10 inches of soil, said Jennifer Horwath, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences.

The earlier work, reported in 1992, estimated nearly 1 billion metric tons of organic carbon was contained in the soil of the polar semidesert, a 623,000-square-mile treeless Arctic region that is 20 percent to 80 percent covered by grasses, shrubs and other small plants. That research also estimated about 17 million metric tons of carbon was sequestered in the soil of the adjacent polar desert, a 525,000-square-mile area where only 10 percent or less of the landscape is plant covered.

Horwath dug substantially deeper, in some instances more than 3 feet down, and found significantly more carbon. She concluded that the polar semidesert contains more than 8.7 billion metric tons of carbon, and the polar desert contains more than 2.1 billion metric tons.

"In the polar semidesert, I found nearly nine times more carbon than was previously reported," she said. "In the polar desert, I’m finding 125 times more carbon."

Horwath will present her findings Tuesday in a poster exhibited during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. The work is part of a broader study of carbon content of the water, plants and soil of the high Arctic region led by Jeffrey Welker, a biology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The UW contingent is led by Ronald Sletten, a research associate professor of Earth and space sciences and coauthor of the poster.

Over three years, during thawing from late June to early August, Horwath excavated more than 75 pits on a peninsula near Thule Air Base in Greenland. The peninsula lies between the Greenland Ice Sheet and Baffin Bay. The pits, about three feet square, ranged in depth from 10 inches to nearly 39 inches, with their depth typically limited by bedrock, water table or permafrost. They contained a variety of soil types and features.

The findings are significant because the Arctic is showing greater effects from global climate change than anywhere else on Earth.

"We already know the Arctic climate is warming, and as it warms the depth of the permafrost is lowered. As that happens, more carbon becomes active and can be converted to carbon dioxide, one of the most abundant greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," Horwath said.

She noted that there is disagreement among scientists on just what the added warmth might mean for the high Arctic. Some say warmer climate will produce greater plant activity to absorb more carbon. Others say the overall carbon absorption is decreasing as the permafrost retreats.

No matter which group is right, she said, it is clearly important for those who run computer models that look at the processes and effects of climate change to have the most accurate numbers possible for the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere.

"The effects of climate change are really hard to predict, and it’s that much harder if you don’t have an accurate picture of what is actually happening now," Horwath said.

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>