Is Soil Releasing Carbon Dioxide Faster Than Thought?

As you probably know, the soil is the single most important factor when it comes organic production of anything really, and especially food. Soil, long thought to be a semi-permanent storehouse for ancient carbon, may be releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than anyone thought, according to Oregon State University soil scientists.

In a study published in a recent online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes.

The carbon then passes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), said the study’s author, Markus Kleber, a soil scientist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

He said the study challenges the prevailing view that carbon bonded to minerals stays in the soil for thousands of years. “As these root compounds separate the carbon from its protective mineral phase,” he said, “we may see a greater release of carbon from its storage sites in the soil.”

It’s likely that a warming climate is speeding this process up, he said. As warmer weather and more carbon dioxide in the air stimulate plants to grow, they produce more root compounds. This will likely release more stored carbon, which will enter the atmosphere as CO2 – which could in turn accelerate the rate of climate warming.

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