Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers find microbial heat islands in the desert

20.01.2016

Deserts are often thought of as barren places that are left exposed to the extremes of heat and cold and where not much is afoot. But that view is being altered as new research keeps revealing the intricate ecological dynamics of deserts as they change responding to the elements.

New research from Arizona State University now reveals how microbes can significantly warm the desert surface by darkening it, much in the same way that dark clothes will make you feel warmer in sunlight. These desert-darkening organisms make a living basking in the sun and form a mantle that covers the landscape.


The desert outside Chandler, Ariz., shows a darkening of the biocrust (left) over its surface.

Credit: Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Arizona State University

Such mantles, called biological soil crusts, or biocrusts, provide important ecosystem services, like fighting erosion and preventing dust storms, or fertilizing the ground with carbon and nitrogen.

The new ASU research shows how the biocrust microorganisms, in an effort to protect themselves from harmful ultraviolet rays in the strong desert sun, produce and lay down so much sunscreen as to noticeably darken the soil, changing the reflectivity of the desert surface as they spread across the land.

The research is outlined in the article "Bacteria increase arid-land soil surface temperature through the production of sunscreens," published in the Jan. 20, 2016 issue of Nature Communications. It was written by Estelle Couradeau, a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University, and Ferran Garcia-Pichel, an ASU professor and Dean of Natural Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

It is part of a long-term institutional collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose fellow scientists Trent Northen, Ulas Karaoz, Hsiaon Chiem Lin, Ulisses Nunes da Rocha and Eoin Brodie, are co-authors of the paper.

"We have found that the presence of sunscreen-bearing crusts can actually raise local surface temperature by as much as 10 degrees C (18 degrees F). Because globally they cover some 20 percent of Earth's continents, biocrusts, their microbes and sunscreens must be important players in global heat budgets," said Couradeau.

"We estimate that there must be some 15 million metric tons of this one microbial sunscreen compound, called scytonemin, warming desert soils worldwide," added Couradeau, the lead author of the paper.

Couradeau spent the last three years studying biocrusts in the laboratory of Garcia-Pichel.

"An increase of 18 degrees F is not without consequence, and we can show that the darkening of the crust brings about important modifications in the soil microbiome, the community of microorganisms in the soil, allowing warm-loving types to do better," Garcia-Pichel added.

"This warming effect is likely to speed up soil chemical and biological reactions, and can make a big difference between being frozen or not when it gets cold," he explained. "On the other hand, it may put local organisms at increased risk when it is already quite hot."

Couradeau and Garcia-Pichel said that while biocrusts have been overlooked in the past they are now getting much closer scrutiny from scientists.

"Biocrusts, while cryptic, deserve more consideration from us," concluded Couradeau. "We need to include them in our climate models and speak about them in the classroom."

Media Contact

Skip Derra
skip.derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823

 @ASU

http://asunews.asu.edu/ 

Skip Derra | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>