Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Expansion of forests in the European Arctic could result in the release of carbon dioxide

Date:
June 17, 2012
Source:
University of Exeter
Summary:
Carbon stored in Arctic tundra could be released into the atmosphere by new trees growing in the warmer region, exacerbating climate change, scientists have revealed.

The Arctic is getting greener.
Credit: Photo by Martin Sommerkorn

Carbon stored in Arctic tundra could be released into the atmosphere by new trees growing in the warmer region, exacerbating climate change, scientists have revealed.

Related Articles


The Arctic is getting greener as plant growth increases in response to a warmer climate. This greater plant growth means more carbon is stored in the increasing biomass, so it was previously thought the greening would result in more carbon dioxide being taken up from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the rate of global warming.

However, research published in Nature Climate Change, shows that, by stimulating decomposition rates in soils, the expansion of forest into tundra in arctic Sweden could result in the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Dr Iain Hartley now based in Geography at the University of Exeter, and lead author of the paper, said: "Determining directly how carbon storage is changing in high-latitude ecosystems is very difficult because the majority of the carbon present is stored below ground in the soils. Our work indicates that greater plant biomass may not always translate into greater carbon storage at the ecosystem level.

"We need to better understand how the anticipated changes in the distribution of different plant communities in the Arctic affects the decomposition of the large carbon stocks in tundra soils if we are to be able to predict how arctic greening will affect carbon dioxide uptake or release in the future."

By measuring carbon stocks in vegetation and soils between tundra and neighbouring birch forest, it was shown that compared to tundra, the two-fold greater carbon storage in plant biomass in the forest was more than outweighed by the smaller carbon stocks in forest soils.

Furthermore, using a novel methodology based on measuring the radiocarbon content of the carbon dioxide being released, the researchers found that the birch trees appeared to be stimulating the decomposition of soil organic matter. Thus, the research was able to identify a mechanism by which the birch trees can contribute directly to reducing carbon storage in soils.

"Dr Gareth Phoenix, of the University of Sheffield's Department Animal and Plant Sciences, who collaborated on the research, added:

"It shows that the encroachment of trees onto Arctic tundra caused by the warming may cause large release of carbon to the atmosphere, which would be bad for global warming.

"This is because tundra soil contains a lot of stored organic matter, due to slow decomposition, but the trees stimulate the decomposition of this material. So, where before we thought trees moving onto tundra would increase carbon storage it seems the opposite may be true. So, more bad news for climate change."

The results of the study are in sharp contrast to the predictions of models which expect total carbon storage to increase with the greater plant growth. Rather, this research suggests that colonisation by productive, high-biomass, plant communities in the Arctic may not always result in greater capture of carbon dioxide, but instead net losses of carbon are possible if the decomposition of the large carbon stocks in Arctic soils are stimulated. This is important as Arctic soils currently store more carbon than is present in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and thus have considerable potential to affect rates of climate change. It is yet to be seen whether this observed pattern is confined to certain soil conditions and colonising tree species, or whether the carbon stocks in the soils of other arctic or alpine ecosystems may be vulnerable to colonisation by new plant communities as the climate continues to warm.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Iain P. Hartley, Mark H. Garnett, Martin Sommerkorn, David W. Hopkins, Benjamin J. Fletcher, Victoria L. Sloan, Gareth K. Phoenix, Philip A. Wookey. A potential loss of carbon associated with greater plant growth in the European Arctic. Nature Climate Change, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1575

Cite This Page:

University of Exeter. "Expansion of forests in the European Arctic could result in the release of carbon dioxide." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120617142542.htm>.
University of Exeter. (2012, June 17). Expansion of forests in the European Arctic could result in the release of carbon dioxide. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120617142542.htm
University of Exeter. "Expansion of forests in the European Arctic could result in the release of carbon dioxide." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120617142542.htm (accessed March 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Whale-Watching Scientists Spot Baby Orca

Whale-Watching Scientists Spot Baby Orca

AP (Feb. 28, 2015) Researchers following endangered killer whales spotted a baby orca off the coast of Washington state, the third birth documented this winter but still leaving the population dangerously low. (Feb. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bridge Collapses Due to Flooding in Bolivia

Bridge Collapses Due to Flooding in Bolivia

Reuters - News Video Online (Feb. 28, 2015) Heavy rain and flooding sweep through parts of Bolivia causing damage and leaves more than 2,000 people homeless. Sophia Soo reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Death Toll from Afghan Avalanches Tops 200

Death Toll from Afghan Avalanches Tops 200

AFP (Feb. 27, 2015) More than 200 people have been killed in a series of avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall in Afghanistan. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
France, Philippines Call for Agreement on Climate Change

France, Philippines Call for Agreement on Climate Change

Reuters - News Video Online (Feb. 27, 2015) The presidents of France and the Philippines issue a joint appeal for a binding agreement on climate change. Katie Sargent reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins