New research reveals yet another alarming dimension of the climate change process, adding another powerful accelerant to the forces, many of them human in origin, driving the dramatic climate change now underway.
And this is yet another sign of the complexity of climate change, evidence that rising temperatures can trigger releases of still more forces that make the earth hotter as thresholds are crossed.
The irony is that the research comes from the U.S. Department of Energy, a federal agency in a government headed by a climate change skeptic/denier [it depends on his whim of the moment]] who his appointed many other climate change deniers to high posts in his administration.
Under Obama, the department’s policy was clear, voiced by-then Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on the department website:
I’m not here to debate what’s not debatable. I mean, the evidence is overwhelming. The science is clear, certainly clear for the level that one needs for policymaking, in terms of the real and urgent threat of climate change.
Here’s his replacement during his confirmation hearings:
With Big Oil running the show, we suspect things will get much worse.
Meanwhile, let’s get grounded.
Steep rises in CO2 release follows soil warming in tests
Soils could release much more CO2 than expected into the atmosphere as the climate warms, according to new research by scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
Their findings are based on a field experiment that, for the first time, explored what happens to organic carbon trapped in soil when all soil layers are warmed, which in this case extend to a depth of 100 centimeters. The scientists discovered that warming both the surface and deeper soil layers at three experimental plots increased the plots’ annual release of CO2 by 34 to 37 percent over non-warmed soil. Much of the CO2 originated from deeper layers, indicating that deeper stores of carbon are more sensitive to warming than previously thought.
They report their work online March 9 in the journal Science [$30 for 24-hour access].
The results shed light on what is potentially a big source of uncertainty in climate projections. Soil organic carbon harbors three times as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. In addition, warming is expected to increase the rate at which microbes break down soil organic carbon, releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
But, until now, the majority of field-based soil warming experiments only focused on the top five to 20 centimeters of soil—which leaves a lot of carbon unaccounted for. Experts estimate soils below 20 centimeters in depth contain more than 50 percent of the planet’s stock of soil organic carbon. The big questions have been: to what extent do the deeper soil layers respond to warming? And what does this mean for the release of CO2 into the atmosphere?
“We found the response is quite significant,” says Caitlin Hicks Pries, a postdoctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division. She conducted the research with co-corresponding author Margaret Torn, and Christina Castahna and Rachel Porras, who are also Berkeley Lab scientists.
“If our findings are applied to soils around the globe that are similar to what we studied, meaning soils that are not frozen or saturated, our calculations suggest that by 2100 the warming of deeper soil layers could cause a release of carbon to the atmosphere at a rate that is significantly higher than today, perhaps even as high as 30 percent of today’s human-caused annual carbon emissions depending on the assumptions on which the estimate is based,” adds Hicks Pries.
The need to better understand the response of all soil depths to warming is underscored by projections that, over the next century, deeper soils will warm at roughly the same rate as surface soils and the air. In addition, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change simulations of global average soil temperature, using a “business-as-usual” scenario in which carbon emissions rise in the decades ahead, predict that soil will warm 4° Celsius by 2100.