Not many people know that a big amount of carbon is stored in our solid, especially in a couple of Northern countries. This has been placed there a couple of hundred years ago when people had no idea it could do harm. Now we are stuck with the consequences, and those might be big. Because what actually happens with the amount of carbon in the ground that gets heated up due to climate change?
Up until a couple of months ago, there was no clear answer. A new investigation has shown that if we keep on producing CO2 emissions as we do now, the CO2 emission will increase with another 12 — 17% caused by our soil. This, however, can only continue until 2050, where afterward the earth most likely will be ruined.
How carbon in the soil gets activated
First of all, our soil exists out a lot of layers. Within those layers, many organisms are to be found. One of these organisms are micro-organisms. The reproducing of micro-organisms are activated by heat. The heat that gets produced above the soil by CO2 emissions enhances the number of micro-organisms. The micro-organisms breath more and release more CO2. Those micro-organisms also let the carbon grow more towards the top layer of the soil.
Through the process of enhancing micro-organisms, methane gets released in carbon. Just like CO2, carbon methane has been stored in the ground for many years. Carbon can be found in the layer of half-digested plants and other organisms, that is used by many insects and micro-organisms as compost. That composts get released into the air, together with the other layer of CO2. The other way around, also animals that live above the ground produce CO2 en methane with their digestion. The poop that fertilizes the ground creates another extra layer of CO2. This luckily creates an equal interaction so that there are as much carbon and CO2 in the soil as what gets placed into it.
An important topic of discussion on climate change is whether the soil will keep absorbing carbon or will also start to release. When the soil would release carbon, it will significantly enhance the rise of the global temperature. If CO2 will be released, that will mostly happen in places like Lapland, Greenland or Iceland. Places that are generally warmer like deserts are not able to keep carbon in the ground. The effects are either positive or negative, but scientists are still debating over that.
Research by the Dutch Institute of Ecology
An international team of researchers have announced in an article in Nature Magazine, to know the answers to long-term effects of carbon in our ground. The leader of the research team, Tim Crowther from the Dutch Institute of Ecology in Wageningen explains the effects of climate change on soil are a grey area. Most scientists left this out of their climate models because the effects were yet so unclear. Whether the effects are positive or negative are still up to debate, due to the vicious cycle the soil creates with CO2 emissions.
The research has been carried out for over the past twenty years in different fields around the world by heating up the soil with a couple of degrees. Within those twenty years, many times a sample has been taken to measure the amount of carbon in the ground. Eventually, researchers discovered that soil with a high concentrate of carbon will lose the carbon when heated up. It is assumed that this is caused by the movement of many (micro)-animals in the ground. They get more active while the soil is heating up.
The highest concentrations of carbon have been found around the poles and in mild temperature zones. The lowest concentration of carbon has been found in the (sub)-tropics. With the information the research team has gathered, and the information that already existed about carbon in our soil, they have estimated to what extent it contributes to climate change.
The researches have calculated the results based upon the continuation of using fossil fuel the way humans are currently doing it. That combination has resulted in a prognosis that the earth will heat up with two degrees by 2050. This is a shocking number since in the new climate agreement it has been agreed that the earth can’t heat up more than 1.5 degrees. Another shocking factor is that if humans continue live as they currently do, the soil will contain 55 billion tons of carbon in 2050. This is equal to the production of carbon in the past five years. In other words, this is another 12 to 17% of CO2 emission.
Criticism at the research
The estimation the researchers have made are still questionable. This develops from the results of other individual projects regarding carbon in our soil. The individual projects estimate 50 – 55 billion carbon in the ground by 2050. As you probably can imagine, 5 billion carbon less in the soil of the earth can make a big difference.
There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with the estimation and results from the research. These means other prognoses have been made by among others the research project leader, Tim Crowther. Other estimations are that the enhancing of the Greenhouse effect by our soil in 2050 might as well be slightly dampening. That this will happen is a change of 15%. On the other hand, it is more likely that the amount of carbon in our soil will actually be more than the estimated amount of the researchers. The change of the increase of that number is about 50%.
In the same issue of Nature magazine, an article about the criticism of the research has been posted. The article contains an interview with ecologist Eric Davidson where he criticizes many things. First of all, the research has been carried out in 49 fields around the world where none of them was located on the southern hemisphere. Secondly, there is still no explanation for the question of why carbon gets released when heated. If the answer to that question had been found, there could be something created to stop the process.
All in all, this research is useful for the process of gaining knowledge about climate change. Nevertheless, more research is required in order to slow down global warming.