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.
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."
Skip Derra | EurekAlert!
Monitoring lava lake levels in Congo volcano
16.05.2018 | Seismological Society of America
Ice stream draining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitive to changes over past 45,000 years
14.05.2018 | Oregon State University
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology