In bogs and swamps, thousands of years of partly decayed plant matter has accumulated into carbon-rich soil called peat.
“Around one-third of all the soil carbon on Earth is stored in these peatlands, says Joel Kostka, a microbiologist at Georgia Institute of Technology.
But he worries that global warming could turn these carbon storehouses into sources of carbon pollution.
“The fear is that, as climate warms … that will stimulate microbes to break down that soil carbon and release greenhouse gases,” he says.
So Kostka’s team has been studying a peat bog in northern Minnesota.
At the research station, scientists built chambers – kind of like greenhouses – to enclose small sections of the bog. They then heated the chambers to mimic different global warming scenarios.
His team found that after two years, the sections of bog in the warmer chambers released more CO2 and methane – a potent heat-trapping gas.
“You get more methane, methane warms the climate even more, and then that amplifies climate change,” Kostka says.
So it underscores the urgency of reducing climate change and keeping as much carbon as possible stored inside peatlands.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media