Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Peat moss – A ticking climate bomb

08.01.2007
Enormous amounts of greenhouse gases are stored in areas rich in peat. If the permafrost melts, the development could go out of control.

The Norwegian proverb ’small tussocks overturn great loads’ is rarely more fitting, because now it turns out that marshes and mosses are very important for the global climate.


SPHAGNUM WARNSTORFII: A small, soft plant with the power to change the global climate.

Developmental biologist and Associate Professor at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Hans K. Stenøien knows a lot about this topic:

”Peat stores one third of the global carbon reserves, and also enormous amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. If – or rather when – the average temperature on the earth rises by one centigrade, large amounts of these reserves could be released to the atmosphere. If that happens, the worst case scenario is that it no longer matters what humans do. The climatic changes may have gone out of control," Professor Stenøien says.

Changing its surroundings

Peat moss is spreading all over the world. This plant, which has not developed much since the dawn of time, is particularly robust and survives in rough environments. Besides, peat moss has a unique ability to change its surroundings and make them more favourable.

”When the peat moss invades new areas, it produces large amounts of hydroxide that makes the environment so acid that existing plants die,” the developmental biologist explains.

The extremely acid environment prevents dead plants from decomposing. Without decomposition, the carbon remains stored in layers upon layers of dead plants instead of being released.

“One acre of peat can contain as much as 2000 tonnes of carbon, and large amounts of methane,” Stenøien says.

Monster moss

Stenøien finds peat mosses fascinating. The fascination does not decrease by their ability to cause entire ecosystems to collapse.

”However, as we may see: Not only limited, local ecosystems fall to pieces if these mosses are allowed to spread. At worst, the peat mosses could make the global climate go out of control. In that case, we are talking about an apparently unimportant plant – but a plant with almost mythical dimensions,” he says.

Even small, soft plants under our feet have the power to change the foundation of the global climate.

Worst up north

Northern regions such as Siberia and North-America function as gigantic depots for these greenhouse gases. For this reason, the northern regions will be particularly affected if the depots are opened.

The global temperature has increased by 0.2 centigrade per decade since 1970. Inland Siberia has experienced an increase three times as high – and the blue line on the thermometer has climbed two steps over the past 30 years.

Siberia alone has frozen areas the size of France and Germany combined, and these areas could start melting on a large scale if the temperature rises by one centigrade. This melting will accelerate the increase in temperature, which again will cause further melting.

Other mechanisms may also produce similar feedback effects. One example is that darker surfaces in areas where ice and snow have melted, lead to higher temperatures which again results in further ice melting. And so it continues.

Has happened before?

”A lot of people believe that these feedback effects have contributed to significant global warming in earlier times,” says Stenøien.

He refers to recently published studies in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. If the temperature rises by one centigrade, it could in practice mean “game over” when it comes to our ability to influence the climatic development.

From then on, Mother Earth herself controls the wheel and the gas pedal – with us in the back seat.

By Tore Oksholen

Nina Tveter | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ntnu.no

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

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 >>>