Eroding Mountains Release More Carbon Dioxide Into The Atmosphere Than They Absorb

Posted: Apr 15 2018, 7:23am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 16 2018, 12:27am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Eroding Mountains Release More Carbon Dioxide into the Atmosphere Than They Absorb
Credit: Robert Hilton, Durham University

The latest study provides new insight into mountain-based carbon cycles

For years, researchers have believed that mountains remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to produce carbonate minerals like calcite, thus reducing the levels of carbon in the world. But a new study has found that the process is not as simple as we imagined it to be. In fact, the mountain erosion can be a new source of carbon dioxide and it can release the gas back into the atmosphere far faster than it is being absorbed.

“This goes against a long-standing hypothesis that more mountains mean more erosion and weathering, which means an added reduction of CO2. It turns out it's much more complicated than that.” Lead author Jordon Hemingway from Harvard University said.

Researchers suggest that tiny microbes in mountain soils consume ancient sources of organic carbon that are trapped in the rock and spew out carbon as they utilize these minerals. The findings are based on the data coming from one of the most erosion-prone mountain chains in the world—the central range of Taiwan. The steep mountain range is struck by many major typhoons each year, which mechanically erode the soil and rock. When researchers examined samples of soil and bedrock from the central range, they observed something surprising.

“At the very bottom of the soil profile, you have basically unweathered rock. As soon as you hit the base of the soil, layer, though, you see rock that’s loose but not yet fully broken down, and at this point the organic carbon present in the bedrock seems to disappear entirely.” Hemingway said.

Researchers also noticed an increase in lipids when they examined that depth of soil. Lipids are organic compounds that are known to come from bacteria, suggesting that disappearance of carbon has something to do with bacteria.

"We don't yet know exactly which bacteria are doing this – that would require genomics, metagenomics, and other microbiological tools that we didn't use in this study. But that's the next step for this research.”

Researchers suggest that the CO2 released by the microbes is apparently not too harmful because it is not severed enough to have an immediate impact on climate change. The study, however, help us better understand how mountain-based carbon cycles actually work and contribute to climate change.

“Looking backward, we're most interested in how these processes managed to keep the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere more or less stable over millions of years. It allowed Earth to have the climate and conditions it had – one that has promoted the development of complex life forms,” said Hemingway. “Throughout our Earth’s history, CO2 has wobbled over time, but has remained in that stable zone. This is just an update of the mechanism of geological processes that allows that to happen.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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