Greening can Backfire

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An Increase in human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could initiate a chain reaction between plants and microorganisms that would unsettle one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet—soil.Princeton University researchers report in a study that soil—which contains twice the amount of carbon in all plants and Earth's atmosphere combined—could become increasingly volatile as people add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This is largely because of increased plant growth. Although a greenhouse gas and pollutant, carbon dioxide also supports plant growth. As trees and other vegetation flourish in a carbon dioxide-rich future, their roots could stimulate microbial activity in soil that in turn accelerates the decomposition of soil carbon and its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This effect counters current key projections regarding Earth's future carbon cycle, particularly that greater plant growth could offset carbon dioxide emissions as flora take up more of the gas.


Down To Earth, January 2015