EC5C. Stay Current—Carbon in the Biosphere

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

Staying current for Chapter 5

{ Ecosystem Change Contents }

2024-02-15. After Shutting Down, These Golf Courses Went Wild. [] By Cara Buckley, The New York Times. Excerpt: Most defunct golf courses get paved over, but a number are getting transformed into ecological life rafts for wildlife, plants — and people….

2023-11-06. Gently Down the Stream: Carbon’s Journey from Land to Sea and Beyond. [] By Nathaniel Scharping, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Movement of carbon from land to ocean and atmosphere plays an important, but understudied, role in the global carbon cycle. Rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs occupy just 1% of Earth’s surface, but they provide a route for large amounts of terrestrial carbon to reach the ocean. Along the journey, carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere in a process known as evasion. But much about the land-to-ocean carbon cycle is not yet understood. …Tian et al. present a global quantification of carbon export and carbon dioxide (CO2) evasion from before the industrial era to the present. Their research indicates that inland waters move nearly half of the carbon absorbed by the land to the atmosphere and oceans. It also reveals significant anthropogenic perturbations to this land-to-ocean carbon cycle. Their work is the first global quantitative assessment of this process, addressing a knowledge gap identified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report….

2023-10-06. Plants Worldwide Reach a Stomata Stalemate. [] By Emily Shepherd, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The underside of a leaf is equipped with many thousands of stomata—microscopic pores that act as pathways for carbon dioxide and water vapor. As climate change causes temperatures to rise, stomata are narrowing, reducing plants’ ability to take in carbon, according to a new study published in Science….

2023-07-17. Soil Fungi May Be a Carbon Pool. [] By Caroline Hasler, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Mycorrhizal fungi—soil-dwelling fungi that exchange nutrients with plant roots—are important players in plant and soil health. A new study suggests they are also significant carbon pools. Researchers estimated that the fungi receive the equivalent of 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually from plants—equal to 36% of current annual fossil fuel emissions….

2023-07-14. Some Squirmy Stowaways Got to the Arctic. And They Like It There. [] By Sofia Quaglia, The New York times. Excerpt: Worms are …taking over territory in the Far North that’s been wormless since the last ice age. Scientists say the expansion will inevitably change northern ecosystems, with implications for the whole planet, in ways we don’t fully understand and probably can’t undo. …In much of the temperate world, shoveling up a clump of ground full of common earthworms is a sign of healthy soil full of flora, fungi and good bacteria. Earthworms actively contribute to soil health by munching on decaying organic matter and pooping out nutrient-rich fertilizer. But that means worms also have the potential to upend the natural balance of ecosystems in Arctic and sub-Arctic zones. For example, by encouraging the growth of certain plants at the expense of others, altering entire food webs and squeezing out rare, native flora that is already threatened by climate change. …They can also trigger microbial activity that can help to unlock potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen that are stored in the soil. …Worms didn’t make it to the Far North on their own. Research shows that humans have been bringing them, intentionally and unintentionally, to remote places above the Arctic Circle and to sub-Arctic areas since at least the middle of the 1800s by importing soil for lawns and gardens and for use as fishing bait. Recent increases in travel to these areas can also contribute to the invasion. …Now, as human-caused climate change raises temperatures and thaws the permafrost, the worms are getting a foothold….

2023-06-29. Mosses Play Key Roles in Ecosystems from Tropics to Tundra. [] By Carolyn Wilke, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: A global survey of mosses growing on soil found that the somewhat underappreciated plants cover a vast area and perform tasks such as sequestering carbon.

2023-04-27. Carbon In, Carbon Out: Balancing the Ocean’s Books. [] By Ryan Vandermeulen, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Plants, algae, and some kinds of bacteria—collectively known as primary producers—absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce the energy and cell structures they need to live. Animals and microbes feed on these primary producers, converting the ingested carbon and nutrients for their own use. When organisms then die, the carbon they contain is returned to the soil, air, or water, and the cycle begins again. Sounds straightforward, right? Yes—and no. It turns out that getting an accurate and precise accounting of carbon flows in the fundamental process of primary productivity is tricky, to say the least, especially in the ocean. …Researchers have recently attempted to resolve some of this complexity about oceanic carbon measurements by seeking international consensus on how various measurements should be made. The outcome was a detailed document of methods and best practices published by NASA and the International Ocean Colour Coordinating Group (IOCCG). The document represents an important step in reducing measurement uncertainties. When these uncertainties are not fully understood or accounted for, the result is ambiguity in the interpretation and comparability of ocean carbon data, which limits their usefulness for developing global carbon cycle models that we need to understand our planet and project future conditions….

2022-11-14. The Bottom of the Arctic Is Blooming. [] By Fanni Daniella Szakal, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Every year in the spring, the Arctic Ocean blooms …with microscopic algae. After the bloom has exhausted the nutrients on the surface, these plankton sink to the seafloor and, without light, die or remain in a stable state. At least, that was what we thought. A new study in Global Change Biology, however, uncovered that in the summer, phytoplankton could bloom at the bottom of the Arctic. …Takuhei Shiozaki, coauthor of the study …and his colleagues found that instead of being in a stable state with low productivity, algae in water samples from the seafloor showed high primary production, indicating a bloom. …The effects of climate change are especially severe in the Arctic, causing the region to warm at a rate nearly 4 times as fast as the rest of the planet. Many marine areas that used to be covered by ice year-round are now ice-free in the summer. Shiozaki and his team speculated that this lack of ice, coupled with seasonally transparent water and increases in the amount of solar radiation absorbed (irradiance), allows sunlight to reach the bottom of the ocean in shallow areas, triggering phytoplankton blooms. …If there is indeed primary production going on at the bottom of the ocean, the implications could be far-reaching. As phytoplankton form the basis of the food web in the Arctic, bottom blooms could alter the ecosystem …for example, previously documented algal blooms indirectly contributed to increases in bowhead whale populations. The hidden blooms could also have an impact on the carbon cycle, as phytoplankton remove carbon from the environment during photosynthesis….

2022-07-26. In San Antonio, the Poor Live on Their Own Islands of Heat. [] By Edgar Sandoval, The New York Times. Excerpt: In San Antonio, weathering the second week of a heat wave that has been ferocious even by Texas standards, lower-income residents like Ms. Cruz-Perez are sometimes left with few options to relieve the misery. Not only can she not afford air-conditioning during the hottest part of the day, she lives in the Westside, one of several parts of San Antonio — nearly all of them working-class or poor neighborhoods — where there are few trees to provide shade. …San Antonio has seen at least 46 days of 100-plus-degree weather so far this year, according to the National Weather Service. Through July 25, measurements taken at the city’s airport have detected that all but one day in July has surpassed the 100-degree mark.The heat wave has been blamed for a series of wildfires, including a blaze that damaged more than 20 homes on Monday evening in Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas. The heat has also tested the state’s beleaguered power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which runs the power grid, has pleaded for power conservation from those who can afford air-conditioning to avoid rolling blackouts.…

2022-01-14. Large Herbivores May Improve an Ecosystem’s Carbon Persistence. By Rishika Pardikar, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The grazing habits of wild animals like elephants and boars enable long-term carbon storage, according to new research that stresses the need to align climate mitigation goals with biodiversity conservation.… []

2020-05-08. Artificial chloroplasts turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into organic compounds. By Robert F. Service, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Just like mechanics cobble together old engine parts to build a new roadster, synthetic biologists have remade chloroplasts, the engine at the heart of photosynthesis. By combining the light-harvesting machinery of spinach plants with enzymes from nine different organisms, scientists report making an artificial chloroplast that operates outside of cells to harvest sunlight and use the resulting energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into energy-rich molecules. The researchers hope their souped-up photosynthesis system might eventually convert CO2 directly into useful chemicals—or help genetically engineered plants absorb up to 10 times the atmospheric CO2 of regular ones…. [

2020-04-13. Urban Heat Islands Are Warming the Arctic. By Cheryl Katz. Excerpt: Urban heat islands—centers of warmth surrounded by halos of greening fueled by human activities—are an important climate phenomenon. Characterized by raised temperatures and longer growing seasons, these heat islands trigger significantly faster warming in cities than in rural areas. New research using satellite spectral imaging shows that urban heat islands aren’t just a product of metropolises in the planet’s populous temperate zones. They’re also contributing to climate change in the remote Arctic…. []

2020-04-02. Reforestation as a Local Cooling Mechanism. ByAaron Sidder. Excerpt: Reforestation has been shown to cool surface temperatures, and a novel study suggests it may also reduce air temperature up to several stories above the ground. … Temperate forests have a reputation as crucial global carbon sinks. In fact, research suggests that American forests alone suck up the equivalent to 14% of annual carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. And after decades of net global forest loss, reestablishing forests worldwide is viewed as a viable option for mitigating the effects of climate change. Beyond the carbon sequestration potential of reforestation, in many parts of the world, forests offer the added benefit of reducing surface temperatures by drawing water from the atmosphere and increasing heat transfer away from the surface. At a local level, restoring forests may help alleviate the effects of climate warming…. []. 

2020-02-20. The Future of the Carbon Cycle in a Changing Climate. By By Aleya Kaushik, Jake Graham, Kalyn Dorheim, Ryan Kramer, Jonathan Wang, and Brendan Byrne, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Over the past 50 years, a growing wealth of long-term atmosphere, ocean, and ecosystem observations has provided essential insights into how climate change affects the ways that carbon moves through Earth’s environment, yet many fundamental questions remain unanswered. Perhaps the most challenging and societally relevant question is whether the rate at which the land and ocean can sequester carbon will continue to keep pace with rising carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) stemming from human activities are rapidly and dramatically altering Earth’s climate. Warmer temperatures drive longer and more destructive fire seasons, shifting precipitation patterns cause flooding in some areas and drought in others, and ocean acidification threatens marine life across the globe. However, land and ocean ecosystems act as natural buffers that limit the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing and sequestering nearly half of emitted CO2. Although anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, this natural climate change mitigation has so far proportionally kept pace with emissions, limiting global warming to a certain extent (Figure 1). This situation could change, however. For example, although tropical forests in the Amazon have been CO2 sinks over the past 50 years, increasing land use change, drought, fires, and tree deaths in recent years may have tipped the balance, making this region a periodic net carbon source…. [

2019-09-17. As Amazon Smolders, Indonesia Fires Choke the Other Side of the World. By Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, The New York Times.  [] Excerpt: JAKARTA, Indonesia — Brazil has captured global attention over deliberately set fires that are burning the Amazon rainforest, often called the earth’s lungs. Now Indonesia is compounding the concern with blazes to clear forest on the other side of the world. Hundreds of wildfires burned across Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra on Tuesday, producing thick clouds of smoke that disrupted air travel, forced schools to close and sickened many thousands of people. Poorly equipped firefighters were unable to bring them under control. Officials said that about 80 percent of the fires were set intentionally to make room for palm plantations, a lucrative cash crop that has led to deforestation on much of Sumatra. The slash-and-burn conflagrations, which tore through sensitive rainforests where dozens of endangered species live, immediately drew comparisons to the wildfires in the Amazon basin that have destroyed more than 2 million acres…. 

2019-07-04. Adding 1 billion hectares of forest could help check global warming. By Alex Fox, Science Magazine. [] Excerpt: Global temperatures could rise 1.5° C above industrial levels by as early as 2030 if current trends continue, but trees could help stem this climate crisis. A new analysis finds that adding nearly 1 billion additional hectares of forest could remove two-thirds of the roughly 300 gigatons of carbon humans have added to the atmosphere since the 1800s. …The latest report from the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended adding 1 billion hectares of forests to help limit global warming to 1.5° C by 2050….  

2019-02-28. The Urban Dry Island Effect. By Emily Underwood, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: A study of the Yangtze River Delta shows how urbanization dries out the atmosphere. Heat generated by people, vehicles, and the Sun is easily trapped by the materials used to build houses, industrial buildings, sidewalks, and parking lots. This heat often makes cities significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas, a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Now, a new study of the highly developed Yangtze River Delta in southern China examines a less studied but related impact of city building: the desiccation of the local atmosphere. …Here Hao et al. [] hypothesize that in addition to increasing local temperatures in urban areas, this rapid development has altered the flow of water between the ground and the atmosphere, making built-up regions drier. To test that hypothesis, the researchers obtained data from the Global Land Surface Satellite (GLASS), products derived from multiple satellite imageries. They also obtained more than 50 years of climate data from 33 weather stations spanning the delta and data from Chinese government records on urbanization and the amount of land being used to grow paddy rice….

2012-09-13. Parking Lot Science: Is Black Best? | by Julie Chao, Berkeley Lab Newsletter. Excerpt:  …when it seems like you could fry an egg on the pavement …it’s not just the beating sun that’s driving up the temperature. …most of our paved surfaces are dark, absorbing almost all of the sunlight that shines down on them. In a typical city, pavements account for 35 to 50 percent of surface area, …“It’s amazing how hot these pavements get and how we’ve let them cover most of our urban surfaces,” said Haley Gilbert, a researcher in the Heat Island Group of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). …To combat this problem, Berkeley Lab scientists have been studying “cool pavement” technologies. …cool pavements reflect as much as 30 to 50 percent of the sun’s energy, compared to only 5 percent for new asphalt  …The benefits of cool pavements extend beyond just cooling the local ambient air. They can also impact global warming and energy loads. Dark roofs and dark pavements both contribute to global warming by absorbing large amounts of solar energy stored in sunlight, then radiating the energy back into the atmosphere in the form of heat… Read the full article:

2011 June 18.  Climate threatening key Yellowstone tree.  By Brandon Loomis, The Salt Lake Tribune.  Excerpt: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed with environmental petitioners that a high-elevation tree that is key to the Yellowstone ecosystem is threatened, advocates reported Monday, though the agency decided it lacks funds to offer it protection under the Endangered Species Act….
…The whitebark pine, whose seeds are a seasonally important food for grizzly bears, has suffered for a century from the introduction of a European blister rust disease and for the past decade from an attack by mountain pine beetles, which previously could not survive at their elevations. Unlike other pines, whitebarks have not developed defenses against beetles, and some researchers believe they will be nearly gone from Yellowstone within five years….

2011 January 21.  California Plants Put A Wrinkle in Climate Change Plans.  By Richard Harris, NPR News.  Excerpt: As the globe warms up, many plants and animals are moving uphill to keep their cool. Conservationists are anticipating much more of this as they make plans to help natural systems adapt to a warming planet. But a new study in Science has found that plants in northern California are bucking this uphill trend in preference for wetter, lower areas….
…This adds some pretty big wrinkles to conservation plans. For example: It’s not always a good assumption that protecting areas up slope from plants will help protect their future habitat as the climate changes….

2010 July 14. Project’s Fate May Predict the Future of Mining. By Erik Eckholm, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Federal officials are considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow, a step that could be a turning point for one of the country’s most contentious environmental disputes.
…The Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.
…Feelings run high in the counties right around the project area. “Spruce 1 is extremely important to all of southern West Virginia because if this permit is pulled back, every mine site is going to be vulnerable to having its permits pulled,” said James Milan, manager of Walker Machinery in Logan, which sells gargantuan Caterpillar equipment… The loss of jobs, Mr. Milan said, would have devastating effects on struggling communities.
…In documents issued in March, the E.P.A. said the project as approved would still smother seven miles of streamed… Filling in headwaters damages the web of life downstream, from aquatic insects to salamanders to fish, and temporary channels and rebuilt streams are no substitute, the agency said. The pulverized rock can release toxic levels of selenium and other pollutants, it noted…

2009 August 5. Forests Fall To Beetle Outbreak. By Ed Stoddard, Reuters. Excerpt: MEDICINE BOW NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming – From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.
But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.
…The plague has cost billions of dollars in lost timber and land values and may thwart efforts to combat climate change, as forests are major storing houses of carbon, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.
The beetle outbreak, which has taken a lesser, but mounting, toll on spruce trees, could make it that much tougher to meet the ambitious target to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
…In the terminology of trees and carbon, a healthy forest is a net “sink,” with trees storing carbon as they grow. When they die and rot they “emit” carbon back into the atmosphere, and so a dead or dying forest becomes a “net source” of greenhouse gas, meaning it emits more carbon dioxide than it stores.
Colorado-based U.S. Forest Service scientist Mike Ryan said the net carbon storage in this patch of woods is about half of what it was three or four years ago. In another three or four years, he believes it will become a net source….
…In Colorado, aerial surveys show that from 1996 to 2008 Colorado lost almost 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of pine forest to the beetle outbreak, Wyoming 677,000 acres and South Dakota 354,000 acres.
Over the same period of time, the spruce beetle, which has also ravaged forests as far north as Alaska, took out 374,000 acres of spruce trees in Colorado and 340,000 in Wyoming.
That cumulative total of over 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) is an area larger than Israel or South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
…A forest can recover, but that can take decades.
“Most forests will recover the carbon they lose but if the next 50 to 100 years is important we may not have that much time. It’s setting back carbon storage efforts,” said Ryan….

2008 June 13. Have Desert Researchers Discovered a Hidden Loop in the Carbon Cycle? By Richard Stone, Science Magazine.Excerpt: URUMQI, CHINA–When Li Yan began measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) in western China’s Gubantonggut Desert in 2005, he thought his equipment had malfunctioned. Li, a plant ecophysiologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi, discovered that his plot was soaking up CO2 at night. His team ruled out the sparse vegetation as the CO2 sink. Li came to a surprising conclusion: The alkaline soil of Gubantonggut is socking away large quantities of CO2 in an inorganic form.
A CO2-gulping desert in a remote corner of China may not be an isolated phenomenon. Halfway around the world, researchers have found that Nevada’s Mojave Desert, square meter for square meter, absorbs about the same amount of CO2 as some temperate forests. The two sets of findings suggest that deserts are unsung players in the global carbon cycle. “Deserts are a larger sink for carbon dioxide than had previously been assumed,” says Lynn Fenstermaker, a remote sensing ecologist at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a co-author of a paper on the Mojave findings published online last April in Global Change Biology.
The effect could be huge: About 35% of Earth’s land surface, or 5.2 billion hectares, is desert and semiarid ecosystems. If the Mojave readings represent an average CO2 uptake, then deserts and semiarid regions may be absorbing up to 5.2 billion tons of carbon a year–roughly half the amount emitted globally by burning fossil fuels, says John “Jay” Arnone, an ecologist in DRI’s Reno lab and a co-author of the Mojave paper. But others point out that CO2 fluxes are notoriously difficult to measure and that it is necessary to take readings in other arid and semiarid regions to determine whether the Mojave and Gubantonggut findings are representative or anomalous…

2007 August 23. Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining. By JOHN M. BRODER, NY Times. Excerpt: The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams. It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion. The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law. …A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.
All mining generates huge volumes of waste, known as excess spoil or overburden, and it has to go somewhere. For years, it has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia.
Environmental activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams in central Appalachia.
“This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. “What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.”
Mr. Lovett said his group and allied environmental and community organizations would consider suing to block the new rule.
…Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining, which is generally cheaper, safer and more efficient than extraction from underground mines like the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, which may have claimed the lives of nine miners and rescuers, and the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners were killed last year.
…the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream….

See also… for Google map of mountaintops that have been removed.

2006 December 6. NASA RESEARCH REVEALS CLIMATE WARMING REDUCES OCEAN FOOD SUPPLY. NASA Earth Observatory News. – In a NASA study, scientists have concluded that when Earth’s climate warms, there is a reduction in the ocean’s primary food supply.

2006 August 1. BEATING THE HEAT IN THE WORLD’S BIG CITIES – (NASA) Green roofs can mitigate urban heat islands and heat waves.