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 Joint research project on wastewater for reuse examines pond system in Namibia
19.12.2016 | Technische Universität Darmstadt

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

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: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solar Collectors from Ultra-High Performance Concrete Combine Energy Efficiency and Aesthetics

16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News

3D scans for the automotive industry

16.01.2017 | Automotive Engineering

Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs

16.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>