The Warmer, Wetter Arctic Is Becoming a New Source of Carbon

Could the impacts of climate change include environmental feedbacks that intensify its effects? New research from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire adds to a growing body of evidence that in the Arctic, at least, such feedback loops are a real consequence of the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Ecologist Julia Bradley-Cook and her team took samples back to the lab of western Greenland tundra soil that grows grass and shrubs and tested how increases in both temperature and moisture would affect the release of carbon dioxide.

They found that both types of soils released significantly more CO2 as they got warmer and wetter. Grass soils released up to twice as much carbon than the shrub soils as heat and moisture increased.

“I think about it as if you’re pouring Red Bull on the soils,” said Bradley-Cook, who led the study as part of completing her Ph.D. at Dartmouth. “As you ramp up temperatures, you’re giving the microorganisms in the soils all this energy, in an accelerated way. The grass soils are more sensitive to that Red Bull than the shrub soils.”

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