After the oceans, the humus is the largest carbon reservoir. If the humus decreases, additional CO2 gets into the atmosphere. A research team headed by the University of Zurich has now discovered that the soil environment determines humus depletion, which means the question as to how soils respond to global climate change needs to be re-addressed.
Soils store three times as much carbon as plants and the atmosphere. Soil organic matter such as humus plays a key role in the global carbon cycle as it stores huge amounts of carbon and thus counters global warming. Consequently, the Kyoto Protocol permits the signatory countries to count soils and forests against greenhouse gas emissions as so-called carbon sinks.
Exactly why some soil organic matter remains stable for thousands of years while other soil organic matter degrades quickly and releases carbon, however, is largely unknown. The explanatory models used thus far assume that the degradation rate depends on the molecular structures of the soil organic matter. An international team of 14 researchers headed by Michael Schmidt, a professor of soil science and biogeography at the University of Zurich, has now revealed that numerous other factors affect the degradation rate of soil organic matter in an article published in «Nature».
Moreover, the new results cast a critical light on bioengineering experiments with plants containing high amounts of lignin or plant charcoal (biochar), with which more carbon is supposed to be stored in the soil in the long run.Literature:
Nathalie Huber | idw
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