Wyrd - OE: that which has become; fate-shaping; destiny-unfolding

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Drying wetlands threaten a climate unraveling

Credit : Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
Everyone knows about 'our' carbon – the thin thread of black that we spin out into the atmosphere as man-made carbon-dioxide emissions. It's the direct byproduct of all our frantic making and heating, flying and driving; the restless energy that defines our modern age. And equally well-known is its consequence -- 'our' carbon is providing much of the impetus behind the globe's rising thermometer.

But that spooling out of long-buried fossil carbon isn't the only way in which we're pulling at the threads of the planet's complex tapestry. Another thread, that scientists are just starting to understand, is that of the carbon sunk into the wetland wildernesses of peats and bogs. And a study, released last year in Nature Communications, confirms the less-than-firm grip that researchers have on the flow of carbon, for these murkier parts of the planet.

It seems that what was thought to be a carbon sink is able to transform itself into a massive carbon pump - literally in just a flash of smoke.

Carbon is pooled in many places in the complex flow of the carbon cycle. Such 'sinks' are places where carbon is not easily released from, and so is kept from boosting the atmospheric CO2 count. In that sense carbon stores are important buffers against runaway global warming. The biggest such stores are to be found in the oceans, and deeply-buried rocks. But wetlands also play a part in storing carbon, on a smaller scale.