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Category — Soil

Buried carbon causes deep concern

Tim Radford

512px-Cimarron_grassland-great-plains

Hidden menace: a vast store of organic carbon lies beneath the wind-blown soil of the Great Plains. Image: Zorin09 via Wikimedia Commons

Deep beneath the Great Plains of America, a vast buried store of organic carbon has been discovered by scientists − a hidden record of bygone climate, and a potentially serious danger to the future climate

Geographers in the US have found a new factor in the carbon cycle, and – all too ominously – a new potential source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They have identified huge deposits of fossil soils, rich in organic carbon, buried beneath the Great Plains of America.

The discovery is evidence that the subterranean soils could be a rich store, or sink, for ancient atmospheric carbon. But if the soil is exposed – by erosion, or by human activities such as agriculture, deforestation or mining – this treasure trove of ancient charred vegetation, now covered by wind-blown soils, could blow back into the atmosphere and add to global warming.

Erika Marin-Spiotta, a biogeographer at  the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues report inNature Geoscience that what is known as Brady soil – ancient buried soil − formed more than 13,500 years ago in Nebraska, Kansas and other Great Plains states. [Read more →]

May 30, 2014   No Comments