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Desert dig uncovers caches of missing CO2

Surprising arid “carbon sinks” keep massive amounts of climate-altering gas out of the atmosphere

By
6:00am, August 3, 2015
China’s Taklamakan Desert

COVERT CARBON  Desert aquifers, fed by rain, surface and irrigation waters, hoard hundreds of billions of metric tons of carbon pulled from the atmosphere, new research suggests. The irrigation water flushes the carbon deep underground, report researchers who studied China’s Taklamakan Desert (shown).

The wet undersides of deserts may stash as much as a trillion metric tons of climate-altering carbon, more than stored in all land-based plants, new research suggests.

Human activities such as burning fossil fuels spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scientists, however, can’t account for where as much as 30 percent of this CO2 ends up.

“We’ve found a carbon sink in the most unlikely place,” says Yan Li, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Urumqi. Up to a fifth of this missing carbon may end up beneath irrigated Earth’s deserts, Li and colleagues propose online July 28 in Geophysical Research Letters. In arid regions, water from agricultural irrigation can flush carbon into underground aquifers, reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and combating greenhouse warming, the researchers report.

“Almost nobody paid

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