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Deep land holds surprisingly much CO2, but heating is bad news

Researchers have gained a deeper understanding of the global carbon cycle and discover that much of the world's carbon dioxide…

Researchers have gained a deeper understanding of the global carbon cycle and discover that much of the world’s carbon dioxide is stored deep underground – with important consequences for climate change.

Because we are children, we learn about natural bikes – the most common are the water and the bicycle cycle. We learn that there is a balance in these bikes, to prevent the carbon of the earth from being released into the atmosphere or completely absorbed in the water and the rocks.

In this period of our planet’s history, this balance is disturbed by the activities of industrial humanity. The basic process is extremely simple: We spend too much carbon dioxide at a much faster rate than it can be absorbed through natural processes. This process is well documented, and its effects are also clearly difficult, although the intricacies and details remain less understood.

For example, the Earth’s influence is still somewhat unclear.

“We know less about the Earths than we do about Mars,” says Marc Kramer, Professor of Environmental Chemistry at WSU Vancouver, whose work appears in the magazine Nature Climate Change . “Before we can start thinking about storing coal in the field, we must actually understand how it is and how likely it is to hold. This discovery highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.”

A simple representation of the carbon cycle.

Kramer and colleagues performed the first global evaluation of the role the Earth plays in storing coal. They analyzed soils and climate data from America, New Caledonia, Indonesia and Europe and drank from more than 65 sites sampled to a depth of six meters from the National Science Foundation-funded National Ecological Observatory Network. In particular, they focused on how carbon dioxide dissolves in the soil and which minerals help to store it.

This allows them to develop a carton of carbon dioxide build-up and gain a better understanding of the road that causes carbon dioxide to be captured in these soils. Spoiler Alert: There are few reasons for optimism.

The good news is that, according to this estimate, soils currently store about 600 billion gigaton coal (twice more than human production since the industrial revolution). But the bad news is that if the temperature continues to rise, this can seriously threaten the number of carbon substances that will be stored. This would happen because water is the most important mechanism by which carbon is dissolved in the soil and although precipitation remains unchanged, higher temperatures cause less water to penetrate into the soil. This also helps to explain why wet soils store more coal than dry.

Researchers also found that deeper soils store surprisingly much coal – but the storage path is basically the same. So while carbon dioxide stores in the deeper parts of the world will not be directly affected by rising temperatures, the path through which this carbon is stored will change. Essentially, this path is dependent on water to sip coal from roots, fallen leaves, and other organic matter and transport it into the deeper layers where it is still stuck. Simply put, if there is less water, there is less stored carbon.

Generally speaking, wet forests tend to be the most productive environments, because the thick layers of organic matter from which water will leak coal and transport it to minerals as much as six meters below the surface.

“This is one of the most persistent mechanisms we know for accumulating carbon,” says Kramer.

This is not the first study to draw an alarm about the Earth’s impact on the carbon content. Two years ago another study discovered that the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon has been dramatically overestimated, whereas just a few months ago landslides were identified as a potential source of additional carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

The study has been published in Nature Climate Change .

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