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How does the Southern Ocean regulate global climate?

Major research project to examine carbon cycling, circulation dynamics

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A new research project will help explain how the Southern Ocean helps regulate the global climate. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Even though it’s eparated from the rest of the world’s oceans by a strong circulation of currents and a distinct temperature gradient, the Southern Ocean is known to be a key driver of global climate and carbon cycles.

Climate researchers and oceanographers may soon know a lot more about the enigmatic ocean as they deploy hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica in a six-year, $21 million research project aimed at understanding ocean dynamics, chemistry and carbon cycling. The new instruments will increase the flow of Southern Ocean data 30-fold. Continue reading

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Forest fragmentation alters global carbon cycle

Careful measurements show how roads and other disturbances affect moisture and the ability of fungi and bacteria to break down dead wood

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Forest fragmentation has a big impact on the carbon cycle. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Logging roads, clearcuts and other disturbances that fragment forests can slow the decay of dead wood and significantly alter the cycling of carbon and nutrients in woodland ecosystems, according to a new study.

Scientists with Earthwatch and the University of Exeter (UK) took a hard look at global forest fragmentation, starting the well-known fact that the edge effect influences temperature, moisture and other elements of forest microclimates. But the effect on the carbon cycle is less understood, so the researchers used on-the-ground experiments combined with modeling to try and fill the gaps. Continue reading

Oceans: Study shows whales are ecosystem engineers

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Healthy whale populations could buffer oceans from some global warming impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whales may play a much bigger role in ocean ecosystems than previously thought, according to a University of Vermont researcher who studied how the great cetaceans recycle and move nutrients from one region to another.

“For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans,” notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman.

That was a mistake, he said, explaining how his research shows that whales  have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. Continue reading

Climate: Does the Southern Ocean hold the ice age key?

Abysmal waters play huge role in global carbon cycles

The water in the Antarctic Sound can be smooth as glass, and sometimes look thick and oily, probably because it's so cold. Click on the photo to learn about some of the environmental issues in Antarctica.

The water in the Antarctic Sound can be smooth as glass. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The remote Southern Ocean, encircling Antarctica, may be a key driver of the carbon cycle, inhaling and exhaling enough carbon to help shift the global climate in and out of ice ages.

For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out what exactly, along with the known wobbles in Earth’s journey around the sun, may cause the huge shifts that lead to vast ice sheets covering many of the planet’s land masses. Continue reading

Climate: Arid lands also help sequester carbon

The Grand Canyon, bberwyn photo.

The Grand Canyon, bberwyn photo.

Researchers surprised by findings from Mojave desert

Staff Report

FRISCO — The world’s arid regions may be able to take up more carbon than previously thought, according to a new study based on detailed soil and carbon measurements from the Mojave Desert.

The research, led by a Washington State University biologist, will help develop a more accurate global carbon budget — how much carbon remains in the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to global warming, and how much gets stored in the land or ocean in other carbon-containing forms. Continue reading

Old trees key to forest carbon cycles

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Giant California redwood tree.

Study makes case for maintaining old-growth forests

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Giant old trees play a key role in forest carbon cycles, researcher said this week, dispelling long-held misconceptions about the growth rate of trees.

In fact, trees never stop growing — as they age, their growth accelerates, even after they’ve reached massive sizes. This means that older trees play a substantial and disproportionate role in the Earth’s carbon cycle, one of the cycles that makes Earth capable of sustaining life.

The study, published in the journal Nature, was co-authored by University of Nebraska-Lincoln biologist Sabrina Russo. To reach their findings, the scientists analyzed biomass growth measurements of 673,046 trees belonging to 403 species from various temperate and tropical regions across six continents. Continue reading

Study: Fungi play key role in global carbon cycle

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The role of fungi must be considered in carbon models.

Interaction between plants, fungi and bacteria determine how much carbon is stored in soils

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Certain types of fungi that live symbiotically with plants play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle by regulating how much carbon is stored by soils.

According to a new study by scientists with the University of Texas at Austin, Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the fungi have a bigger effect that most other factors, including including the amount of plant growth, temperature and rainfall.

Another recent study from Sweden also showed that mycorrhizal fungi are trapping the carbon deep in the ground as part of the process of nutrient exchange between the fungi and plant species. Continue reading

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