Nature is breathing. Trees inhale carbon dioxide and store that carbon in their leaves and branches. After they die, microbes in the soil gobble up their carbon-rich leftovers and exhale carbon dioxide back into the air, a process known as respiration. Rising temperatures are causing both processes to go faster. But — in an unexpected new finding — the two aren’t speeding up at the same rate. The microbes are working harder than the plants.
The Earth, essentially, is panting.
“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn converts more carbon into carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere,” said Ben Bond-Lamberty, a researcher with the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland. “Climate change is nudging up the temperature under which soils and ecosystems operate, with effects that are both predictable — such as faster activity — and uncertain — that is, microbial and plant communities might change.”