November 26 (UPI) – Nearly a quarter of all carbon stored in the earth's soil is found in minerals located about six feet below the surface. But new research has shown that this unique carbon reservoir will become less efficient in storing carbon as the planet gets warm.
To better understand how increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will affect the climate of the planet, scientists should more accurately model the many carbon cycles on Earth. The soil hosts one of these carbon cycles.
As part of a new study, the first of its kind, the researchers describe how carbon is physically and chemically associated with minerals in soils around the world. The survey results were published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.
"We know less about Earth's soil than about the surface of Mars," said Mark Kramer, an associate professor of ecology at Washington University, Vancouver. "Before we can start thinking about carbon storage in the ground, we need to understand how it's going to be there and how likely it is to keep it." This discovery underlines a serious breakthrough in our understanding. "
After analyzing the climate data and soil samples collected in 65 different excavation sites in North and South America, New Caledonia, Indonesia and Europe, researchers have created a global map of carbon capture in the soil.
New data show that minimal amounts of carbon are stored in deserts and dry forests, but about six feet below the surface of damp forests, scientists find an abundance of carbon bound with reactive minerals.
The resistance of water and decomposing organic matter to the forest floor supports the extraction of carbon from the top and transporting it to the buried minerals.
"This is one of the most sustainable mechanisms we know about how carbon accumulates," Kramer said.
According to new research, global warming will not affect the carbon that is already stored under the surface of wet woodland, but will change the way the new carbon is stored. Increasing the temperature will probably reduce the amount of water passing through the forest soil even if rainfall levels remain stable.