Researchers at North Carolina State University have shown that the amount of aerosols – dust particles, soot from automobile emissions and factories, and other airborne particles – in the atmosphere has a significant impact on whether the surface area below either absorbs or emits more carbon dioxide (CO2).
The researchers discovered that changes in the levels of airborne aerosols resulted in changes to the terrestrial carbon cycle, or the cycle in which CO2 is absorbed by plant photosynthesis and then emitted by the soil.
Besides documenting the effects of aerosols on the carbon cycle, the research also showed that the type of landscape also influenced whether a surface area served as a carbon sink, an area that absorbs more CO2 than it emits, or as a carbon source, an area that emits more CO2 than it absorbs. In the research project, six locations across the United States – encompassing forests, croplands and grasslands – were studied. Increased amounts of aerosols over forests and croplands resulted in surface areas below becoming carbon sinks, but increased amounts of aerosols over grasslands resulted in surface areas becoming carbon sources.
Dr. Dev Niyogi | EurekAlert!
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