Study: Sunlight and the right microbes convert Arctic carbon into carbon dioxide

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nearly half of the organic carbon stored in soil around the world is contained in Arctic permafrost, which has experienced rapid melting, and that organic material could be converted to greenhouse gases that would exacerbate global warming.

When permafrost thaws, microbial consumption of those carbon reserves produces carbon dioxide – much of which eventually winds up in the atmosphere, but scientists have been unsure of just how the system works.

There is little shade in the Arctic, so when the permafrost melts, carbon is released into streams and lakes where a combination of sunlight and microbes converts it to carbon dioxide. CREDIT Rose Cory, University of Michigan

A new study published this week in Nature Communications outlines the mechanisms and points to the importance of both sunlight and the right microbial community as keys to converting permafrost carbon to CO2. The research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

“We’ve long known that microbes convert the carbon into CO2, but previous attempts to replicate the Arctic system in laboratory settings have failed,” noted Byron Crump, an Oregon State University biogeochemist and co-author on the study. “As it turns out, that is because the laboratory experiments did not include a very important element – sunlight.”

“When the permafrost melts and stored carbon is released into streams and lakes in the Arctic, it gets exposed to sunlight, which enhances decay by some microbial communities, and destroys the activity for other communities. Different microbes react differently, but there are hundreds, even thousands of different microbes out there and it turns out that the microbes in soils are well-equipped to eat sunlight-exposed permafrost carbon.”

The research team from Oregon State and the University of Michigan was able to identify compounds that the microbes prefer using high-resolution chemistry and genetic approaches. They found that sunlight makes permafrost soils tastier for microbes because it converts it to the same kinds of carbon they already like to eat – the carbon they are adapted to metabolize.

“The carbon we’re talking about moves from the soil into rivers and lakes, where it is completely exposed to sunlight,” Crump said. “There are no trees and no shade, and in the summer, there are 24 hours a day of sunlight. That makes sunlight potentially more important in converting carbon into CO2 in the Arctic than in a tropical forest, for example.”

As the climate continues to warm, there are interesting ramifications for the Arctic, said Crump, who is a faculty member in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The long-term forecast for the Arctic tundra ecosystem is for the warming to lead to shrubs and bigger plants replacing the tundra, which will provide shade from the sunlight,” Crump said. “That is considered a negative feedback. But there also is a positive feedback, in that seasons are projected to expand. Spring will arrive earlier, and fall will be later, and more water and carbon will enter lakes and streams with more rapid degradation of carbon.

“Which feedback will be stronger? No one can say for sure.”

The stakes are high, Crump said. There is more carbon stored in the frozen permafrost than in the atmosphere. It has accumulated over millions of years by plants growing and dying, with a very slow decaying process because of the freezing weather.

“Some of the organic matter is less tasty to microbes than others,” Crump said, “but bacterial communities are diverse, so there will be something out there that wants that energy and will use it.”

###

There is little shade in the Arctic, so when the permafrost melts, carbon is released into streams and lakes where a combination of sunlight and microbes converts it to carbon dioxide. CREDIT Rose Cory, University of Michigan

The paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-00759-2

Advertisements

77 thoughts on “Study: Sunlight and the right microbes convert Arctic carbon into carbon dioxide

  1. “Which feedback will be stronger? No one can say for sure”. But, being the dedicated researcher I am if you send me a lot of money I will try to model the answer.

    • And what is wrong with finding out how things work? At least this scientist was being honest and not overtly alarmist.

      • Millions of years of carbon storage? Really?

        Was not most of that area under 1 to 3 miles of ice 20 000 years ago and any soil/permafrost wiped out of existence? These guys need to learn more out our glaciological history. They are sorely lacking in that area.

        These clowns also seem to have missed the fact that all of the organic material was laid down during much warmer periods when life of thriving in these areas. Clearly those warmer times were a boon for these areas, the conditions today being one of death, decay and cold.

      • rocketscientist, I prefer research that has a focus which includes some reality. Where is any evidence that giant CO2 gas clouds come rolling down from the arctic tundra destroying atmospheric balance as we know it? This research was just anothe cog in the American SUV’s are bad meme (if they did not get the warming started everything would have been alright). By the way I have two degrees in Science from Oregon State University and my Professors were reality-based.

      • the organic material was laid down during much warmer periods

        Higley.

        Yes! These “scientists” (seriously?), by failing to include PLANT GROWTH in their hypothesis, leave it not only riddled with holes, but, almost ONE BIG HOLE. Lol, they are only fit to wear silly costumes and cavort and make funny faces in the “Climate Clowns for Cash Parade.”

    • we are doomed. Because of our faults and sins
      anyway.
      By fire or cold, we shall be punished, and perish
      So they say.

      • Fire and Ice
        by Robert Frost

        Some say the world will end in fire,
        Some say in ice.
        From what I’ve tasted of desire
        I hold with those who favor fire.
        But if it had to perish twice,
        I think I know enough of hate
        To say that for destruction ice
        Is also great
        And would suffice.

      • How so, these stones upon that flo…
        among the ice and thawing snow,
        The endocarp of ancient fruit,
        or fossil brain of climate kook ?

        Not only germs that do exhale,
        it’s walrus, seal, and mighty whale.
        And you and me, blackdamp we blast,
        with every breath, it’s such a gas !

        &etc.

      • OH MY MY, ….. t’were bout 9,000 years of permafrost melting, ….. with the defrosted carbon being ingested by microbes ……. and more carbon being sequestered by the green-growing biomass, to wit:

        Radiocarbon-dated macrofossils are used to document Holocene treeline history across northern Russia (including Siberia). Boreal forest development in this region commenced by 10,000 yr B.P. Over most of Russia, forest advanced to or near the current arctic coastline between 9000 and 7000 yr B.P. and retreated to its present position by between 4000 and 3000 yr B.P. During the period of maximum forest extension, the mean July temperatures along the northern coastline of Russia may have been 2.5° to 7.0°C warmer than modern.
        Excerpted source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0033589499921233

        Peat survives – simply because, with warming temperatures melting the permafrost, ….. as the older peat is microbially destroyed, …. newer peat is photosynthically created.

  2. So this is a “smoking gun” to confirm how temperature drives CO2. It explains why CO2 rapidly rose when temperature rose in each ‘recent’ interglacial period and then “hung on”, remaining elevated as temperature came back down – it cannot just “go back where it came from” merely because temperature went back down.

      • But we also know that that cannot account for very much of it because, as I pointed out, CO2 remained elevated for thousands of years after temperature had already peaked and was falling back down during prior interglacial periods. Surely if the ocean had been the major governing factor of CO2 via Henry’s Law it would have followed the drop in temperature more closely. Life appears to be the primary factor.

      • Surely the averages temperature of the oceans will be a function of the average sea surface temperatures over hundreds of years previously – i.e. will lag by a long time. Wouldn’t be a big surprise if out gassing also lagged.

      • @Mike – Henry’s law only impacts ocean surface waters. It take very roughly 1000 years for surface water to downwell in the polar regions and move its way across the deep ocean to an upwelling region.

        Thus when the ocean surface waters cool, they can continue to absorb more CO2 for roughly 1000 years.

        And the same on the warming side. If the ocean surface waters are warmed, there will be a continuous emission of dissolved CO2 for roughly 1000 years.

      • @Mike – Henry’s law only impacts ocean surface waters. It take very roughly 1000 years for surface water to downwell in the polar regions and move its way across the deep ocean to an upwelling region.

        Thus when the ocean surface waters cool, they can continue to absorb more CO2 for roughly 1000 years.

        And the same on the warming side. If the ocean surface waters are warmed, there will be a continuous emission of dissolved CO2 for roughly 1000 years.

  3. The Arctic sea ice and Greenland SMB are not cooperating with the Alarmists dreams and so now we must hear about holes in Antarctic sea ice and the dangers of melting permafrost instead. Meanwhile it looks like TD-16 in the Western Caribbean will develop into a hurricane and come north and strike the gulf coast, most likely around the Florida Panhandle well east of the current NHC cone of death and so we are in for another bout of fools telling us it’s all mankind’s fault.

  4. To me it isn’t at all clear that melting permafrost will mean decreasing amounts of carbon in the soil. The northern taiga and boglands that would replace the tundra typically accumulate huge amounts of waterlogged organic material (peat and forest litter).

    By the way if he knows of places where:

    “It has accumulated over millions of years by plants growing and dying, with a very slow decaying process because of the freezing weather”

    I am sure that geologists and paleontologists would be very interested, since such old organic deposits are extremely rare. Most have accumulated during the present interglacial and even in Northeastern Siberia deposits older than the last glaciation are unusual.

  5. “As it turns out, that is because the laboratory experiments did not include a very important element – sunlight.”

    Sorry, they wasted money on experiments only to eventually figure out sunlight was a key component?

    And these are supposed to be credible scientists?

    What does that make me, I haven’t a qualification to my name and the first thing I though of was sunlight when I started reading this nonsense.

  6. “Funding for this work was provided by NSF grants OPP 1023270, 1022876, CAREER 1351745, DEB 1147378, 1347042, 0639790, 1147336, 1026843, PLR 1504006, DOE-JGI-CSP 1782, and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Postdoctoral Program in Environmental Chemistry.”

    Anybody have some time to figure out how much grant funding went into this?

  7. “We’ve long known that microbes convert the carbon into CO2, but previous attempts to replicate the Arctic system in laboratory settings have failed,” noted Byron Crump, an Oregon State University biogeochemist and co-author on the study. “As it turns out, that is because the laboratory experiments did not include a very important element – sunlight.”

    “When the permafrost melts and stored carbon is released into streams and lakes in the Arctic, it gets exposed to sunlight, which enhances decay by some microbial communities, and destroys the activity for other communities. Different microbes react differently, but there are hundreds, even thousands of different microbes out there and it turns out that the microbes in soils are well-equipped to eat sunlight-exposed permafrost carbon.”
    _____________________________________________

    So it’s not CO2 reins climate.

    It’s microbes rein CO2 reining climate.

    A never ending story.

  8. “There is more carbon stored in the frozen permafrost than in the atmosphere. It has accumulated over millions of years by plants growing and dying, with a very slow decaying process because of the freezing weather.”

    So this is natural and has happened over and over again, without a single climate catastrophe.

    (We’re saved!)

    This explains the ice cores and further falsifies the prevailing AGW theory. The ice cores show CO2 changes trailing temperature changes by about 800 years on average. Temperatures warm and then carbon dioxide increases due to this release of CO2 from thawing tundra. It is logical to assume that this process happened 10 to 15 thousand years ago in areas that are now grasslands. At some point, temperatures begin to fall and the grasslands return to tundra and sequester their carbon for another 80 to 100 thousand years. In other words, this has happened many, many times before in the last 5 million years and it has never once broken the cycle of glaciation. Despite the release of CO2, it always got colder again. It never prevented the next glaciation, much less caused run-away global warming. From this we know that CO2 is not a significant driver of global temperature. It appears that temperature is driving atmospheric CO2 levels, not the other way around.

  9. …but scientists have been unsure of just how the system works.

    lol. But the same scientists just totally know how the system works when a scare story is required to stimulate the funding nipple.

    As an aside, an author with the name of Crump might want to consider changing his name, because it sounds a bit too close to Trump for many global-warmers. Of course sensible people don’t ever do that, but he moves in different circles.

    • The alarmists repeatedly get away with the tail wagging the dog, making predictions contrary to natural history on the grounds that such history cannot apply because there weren’t any SUV’s back then. So studies like this one showing CO2 rising without SUV’s disenfranchises their smugnicity.

  10. A few years ago they were claiming that all of that stored carbon was going to be converted to methane.
    Now actual science shows that it is converted to CO2, which is a weaker greenhouse gas, and a more saturated one to boot.

    Regardless, they are assuming two things.
    1) That there is enough warming to make a difference.
    2) That more CO2 in the atmosphere is a bad thing.

  11. Taking into consideration about 70% of Earth’s surface is covered with water – whether life started there or not – similar proportion of organic material is likely to be in it, even if limited to the sedimentation only.

  12. It is highly inaccurate to say that “…permafrost… is melting” (see the first paragraph).

    Permafrost doesn’t melt; it thaws.

  13. What about the whole CO2 warming being dependent on water vapor, the real greenhouse gas? Where is that going?

  14. “…using high-resolution chemistry and genetic approaches.”

    I would just love to know what they mean by “high-resolution chemistry” or, even more so, “high resolution genetics”.
    Actually, I suspect that it is just the utterances of somebody talking high resolution bollocks.

    • Perhaps the authors were trying to “dumb it down” so omitted such words as “gas chromatography” and “spectroscopy”.
      (I’m trying to be generous)

  15. The sunlight doesn’t do a darn thing to the organic compounds in the thawing permafrost except heat them. What is does do, according to the authors, is favor some microbes over others (due to? radiation? temperature?). How is this new?
    Furthermore all the authors seem to assert is that previously frozen peat bogs can transition to grass lands onto shrubbery and eventually into forest. We learn this in primary school.

    And this has never happened any where before? [facepalm]

  16. [Quote from Byron Crump]: “But there also is a positive feedback, in that seasons are projected to expand. Spring will arrive earlier, and fall will be later, and more water and carbon will enter lakes and streams with more rapid degradation of carbon.”

    If the microbes which can digest carbon from permafrost are stimulated by sunlight, there is no reason why “fall will be later”, since the date in autumn after which the sun no longer shines in the Arctic is a function of latitude only, and the microbes will be unable to digest carbon from permafrost after that date.

    There could also be another negative feedback–if a longer growing season (due to an earlier spring thaw) leads to the growth of larger shrubs in the tundra, the shrubs will remove more CO2 from the atmosphere by photosynthesis than an equal area of grass.

    It will also give the polar bears more time for frolicking in the flowers.

    • Yes, that quote bothered me also. Unless CO2 has also altered Earth’s orbit or inclination, spring, summer, autumn, and winter will always arrive on schedule. The solstices and equinoxes are on a very predictable schedule. We’ve been watching them and determining them form quite some time. But, there was a period when alarmists and dogmatists were attempting to quell such heresy. The truth will out.

  17. If it were true that melting permafrost releases gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere … why was there no huge spike in CO2 at the end of the last ice age? I mean, CO2 went up at that time, but only at a rate adequately explained by oceanic outgassing. What happened to the putative permafrost CO2?

    Just sayin’ …

    w.

    • If melting permafrost releases CO2 into the atmosphere, then you must ask yourself how that carbon was in the permafrost in the first place. Underpants gnomes? Manbearpig? Magic elves that live in trees and bake cookies? These are answers that only a climastrologist could provide.

    • Even more remarkable, why wasn’t there a huge spike in CO2 during the previous Eemian/Sangamonian interglacial when a lot of permafrost actually did melt and the tundra almost disappeared? Forest at that time grew all the way north to the arctic coast in eastern Siberia and even on the southernmost of the New Siberian islands, as well as on the coast on the Alaskan side of Berings strait.

  18. Earth’s current atmospheric methane concentration is slightly less than 2ppm. Now there are i million pennies in $10,000, so if we equate that to methane, Earth’s current methane concentration is equivalent to 2 cents in $10,000.

  19. Innit just awful what eating carbohydrate does to people – creates muppets like these.

    Apart from entirely destroying your thinking ability and memory (this is depression, NOT to be confused with despondency although the two often occur together), it traps you in a bubble of Magically Thinking.
    Such thinking entirely disallows any other hypothesis to enter your head apart from the one you’ve convinced yourself is true.
    In this case, that carbon dioxide is THE cause of Global Warming AND that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere came from burning fossil fuel.

    Apart from that, they really are on to something.
    1. They say ‘sunlight’ Surely by exposing something to the sun, you are also exposing it to a plentiful supply of oxygen. Bacteria don’t do photosynthesis.

    2. Sunlight and bacteria is not a healthy mix. Not for bacteria. It desiccates and hence kills them. Then and also, any ultraviolet coming in simply blows them to complete buggeration. Surprise surprise, the ever hungry oxygen moves in and takes the bits away as water and carbon dioxide.

    As The Vast Majority of ‘soil organic carbon’ is actually in the form of bacteria, exposing soil to sunlight is not a good idea if you want the organic material to remain in the soil.
    It also (exposure to sun) dries out the soil and so, all other things being equal, causes it to become warmer than it otherwise might have done.

    (The Alert Reader here will now see where I’m going. So far we have something that creates CO2 and lifts temperature, The REALLY alert will see which came first)

    Meanwhile in more temperate climes, those happy, much-maligned, entirely misunderstood, subsidy junkies, kritter-killers, leavers of mud-on-the-road, drivers of huge swanky cars & SUVs, rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice and general all round destroyers of The Environment have effectively waged wars (real wars where people die) since time immemorial in order to gain possession of ‘organic rich’ dirt.

    Pick up a mirror and I’ll see one one of these folks, sometimes called ‘farmers’

    As always with anyone anywhere, these farmer types came under [pressure to grow more and more stuff.
    They quickly learned that annual crops (especially grasses), with their massive genetic urge to produce a huge crop in only one season (an annual plant only ever gets One Chance) were a seemingly good way to satisfy the ever rising demand.

    Sadly, annual plants are ‘a bit fragile’ They don’t like competition.
    Ever resourceful farmer worked out that a thing later called ‘plough’ would be good as it removed competition and the annual plants grew much better with bigger yields.
    What is not to like?
    Whoever said ‘size doesn’t matter’ were lying through their teeth and so big yields of food were quickly translated into big yields of babies – via the process commonly referred to, yet wildly misunderstood – the process of ‘romance’
    (Boy gives Girl stuff, Girl gives Boy babies. A very simple contract first put into writing by Adam & Eve and run through briefly at every wedding ceremony to this very day)

    Now you see where we’re going.
    Soil in Temperate Climes is being ploughed regularly (every year to grow the annual plants) and the exposure to sunlight kills/removes soil bacteria (creating CO2) every time it’s ploughed while simultaneously drying the soil and raising temperatures.

    Hang On One Goddam Minute!!! Is that not what all this climate change malarky is about?

    Now then. dare we try pull some threads together and get some actual clothes onto The Emperor?

    We heard from Dr Christy that, in September, Global Temperature Anomaly was at an all time high. Also some muppet with a computer had finally got lucky and got The Right Answer
    The poor mood was palpable.
    Oh God everyone thought – Carbon Dioxide Climate Change is real and we did it.

    What did the good Dr Christy say?
    He said that his Sputnik had recorded the first 5 miles of The Atmosphere to be warmer than it had been previously. Supposedly as Green House Theory says it would/should.

    But But But.
    We are now, all of us, entirely au fait with Stefan’s Law.
    That says that this warmer atmosphere recorded by Dr C will be radiating more strongly that before.
    OK, it radiates down warming the ground but it also radiates up.
    Down radiation is where the heat came from anyway but extra upward radiation means extra heat loss from The Planet.
    Dr Christy told us that, this September, The Earth was shooting more energy off into space than it previously did. This is The Whole Earth – that’s what his Sputnik measured.

    But but but but. How can this be? How can The Earth be warmer while loosing more heat?
    Crazy innit?

    Ah but, The Sun did it.
    No.
    Let’s assume the sun didn’t do it. Not in September anyway. The Sun is a Constant Thing.

    So how did things get warmer while losing extra energy?

    This is of course where (I certainly for one) don’t believe a single thing that Climate Models say. Not least as their ‘input’ is energy yet their ‘output’ is temperature.
    So what’s the conversion factor?

    It depends massively on what you’re pumping the energy into.
    x number of Joules will lift the temperature of a kilo of sand or rock to a higher figure than they would a kilo of water…

    Now you get it don’t you……………….

  20. Well, I guess no one ever accused climastrologists of being too smart. This is so easy that a 3rd grader could understand it.

    That organic-rich soil represents a net sequestration of CO2 by primary production during the warmest periods of interglacial periods. If the permafrost thaws because the regional climate becomes as warm as it was during the warmest period of interglacials and primary production can once again take place, what will the net movement of carbon be, in or out of the soil. 3rd graders would correctly answer that the net flow of carbon will be into the soil, climatstrologists will herp, then derp, and probably come up with the wrong answer.

  21. Okay. Crump, et al.. Back to basics (you clearly need them).

    1. Re:

    could be converted to greenhouse gases that would exacerbate global warming.

    Prove it.

    So far, there is not one observation to support this conjecture.

    What is there?

    Failed, utterly failed, as in unfit for purpose, unskilled, climate models.

    See Bob Tisdale’s free e book: Climate Models Fail

    Furthermore,

    there is anti-correlation data, now. Over 19 years of it:

    CO2 UP. WARMING NOT.

    ****************

    2. See above comments for many basic geology, biology, and chemistry principles you would do well to study.

    **********************

    Okay, seriously. I realize you could not be that ignorant. That leaves all of us wondering….

    How in the world do you face yourselves in the mirror each day? “There stands a fr@ud.” or “I lie for a living.” couldn’t do much for the ol’ ego….. or could they?…….

  22. I wonder how long it required and how many repeated opportunities it took for biology to become this efficient at scavenging carbon from ice. I also wonder how they managed to survive before the SUVocene epoch.

  23. As a geologist who has done extensive fieldwork in the Precambrian of northern Canada since the 1950s, the amount of overburden (loose materials on top of bedrock) averages a few meters and most of this is sterile glacial debris of sand, gravel, boulders, silt and rock flour with from zero to a sparing several centimeters of mossy soil which is in the active layer which freezes and thaws each year

    There are patches of wet bog land to be sure but there is also extensive bare granite terrain continuously for hundreds of square kilometers – a joy to traverse over except for the lack of drinking water. Many a time on a hot sunny July day, I have had to make do with water scooped out of moose or caribou tracks in a small pan depression bog in the granite.

    It was already the color if tea, but we boiled it up in a small tea pail and threw in a small palm of tea for aesthetic reasons and to divert our attention from occasional “droppings” picked out of the water. Watching the water bugs swim in interesting patterns to try to stay cool, ever faster until the end before the amber fluid began to bubble and then tumble before the tea was thrown in.

    I’m sorry, University of Arizona, but most of your thawing permafrost in Canada is in solid rock with lesser amounts in sand and gravelly glacial till. Russia has some deeper stuff in places and I notice that all your examples from the alarmosphere are in Russia, but you always include the permafrost map of Canada in your picture. Ditto Greenland. Let’s start by chopping your figures by about 75%. I hope your study of the atmosphere includes going into the field You already have to reduce the air warming progs by about 75%. Maybe this number would be a useful coefficient in Climateering.

  24. Several years ago on one of the “nature” channels an environmental group was filming the
    disaster of the melting permafrost in the tundra. A couple of Alaskan guides were leading them. The voice over kept talking about the disaster of the advancing timberline into the Arctic Tundra. All this as they were all walking through the remnants of a old tree line with stumps, and denuded trees all around them. The guides obviously noticed the contradiction but not the camera crew or environmentalists or whoever edited the piece.

  25. “Some of the organic matter is less tasty to microbes than others,” Crump said, “but bacterial communities are diverse, so there will be something out there that wants that energy and will use it.”

    It’s been 50 years since my last biology class, so maybe someone can help me out here and explain for me exactly where the tastebuds are located on these Arctic soils bacteria species.

  26. A fine comment by urederra:

    Rising temperatures in the boreal region are leading to degradation of permafrost, as well as more intense droughts and wildfires. Climate change is causing wildfires to burn more fiercely, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    Dunno. One might think that if permafrost “melts” it would be more land for trees to grow.

    was mis-posted on the tree DNA thread here:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/10/06/trees-to-be-barcoded/comment-page-1/#comment-2629661

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s