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Warming soils may belch much more carbon

Scientists boost estimates based on measurements from greater depths

By
2:00pm, March 9, 2017
monitoring soil carbon emissions

DEEP DIRT  Carbon emissions from soils could increase more than previously thought as temperatures go up, a new experiment suggests. Caitlin Hicks Pries (at the computer) and colleagues monitored emissions from a forest plot in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

As the planet warms, carbon stashed in Earth’s soils could escape into the atmosphere far faster than previously thought. In the worst-case scenario for climate change, carbon dioxide emissions from soil-dwelling microbes could increase by 34 to 37 percent by 2100, researchers report online March 9 in Science. Previous studies predicted a more modest 9 to 12 percent rise if no efforts are taken to curb climate change. Those extra emissions could further intensify global warming.

Much of that extra CO2 will originate from soils at depths overlooked by previous measurements, says study coauthor Margaret Torn, a biogeochemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “We ignore the deep at our peril,” she says.

Soils cover about two-thirds of Earth’s ice-free land area and store nearly 3 trillion metric tons of organic carbon — more than three

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