Alpine tundra releases long-frozen CO2 to the atmosphere, exacerbating climate warming

phys.org | 3/21/2019 | Staff
Celtics2212 (Posted by) Level 3
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Thawing permafrost in high-altitude mountain ecosystems may be a stealthy, underexplored contributor to atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, new University of Colorado Boulder research shows.

The new findings, published today in the journal Nature Communications, show that alpine tundra in Colorado's Front Range emits more CO2 than it captures annually, potentially creating a feedback loop that could increase climate warming and lead to even more CO2 emissions in the future.

Phenomenon - Exists - Arctic - Research - Decades

A similar phenomenon exists in the Arctic, where research in recent decades has shown that melting permafrost is unearthing long-frozen tundra soil and releasing CO2 reserves that had been buried for centuries.

"We wondered if the same thing could be happening in alpine terrain," said John Knowles, lead author of the new study and a former doctoral student in CU Boulder's Department of Geography and a researcher at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). "This study is a strong indication that that is indeed the case."

Forests - Carbon - 'sinks - Carbon - CO2

Forests have long been considered vital carbon 'sinks,' sequestering more carbon than they produce and helping to mitigate global CO2 levels. As part of the Earth's carbon cycle, trees and other vegetation absorb CO2 via photosynthesis while microbes (which decompose soil nutrients and organic material) emit it back to the atmosphere via respiration, just as humans release CO2 with every breath.

Melting permafrost, however, changes that equation. As previously frozen tundra soil thaws and becomes exposed for the first time in years, its nutrients become freshly available for microbes to consume. And unlike plants, which go dormant in winter, microscopic organisms can feast all year long if environmental conditions are right.

Effect - Conditions - Researchers - CO2 - Transfer

To study this effect in alpine conditions, researchers measured the surface-to-air CO2 transfer over...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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