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26 Jun, 2022
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Microbes In Permafrost Can Lead To a Massive Out Burst Of Carbon!

The temperatures in northern Sweden tend to move slowly to several degrees above freezing, and scientists will again go down on the squelchy peat of Stordalen Mire. They will walk across sagging wooden boardwalks, past clusters of clear plexiglass boxes placed among the cotton grass. 

Once every three hours, the lids on the boxes will close, allowing them to fill with methane — a potent greenhouse gas — seeping up from the soil beneath during the mire’s short growing season. 

Meanwhile, the scientists studying climate sciences have a grubbier job. They will push metal cores into the squishy mud and pull out samples to take back to the lab. They will study the microorganisms producing the methane by sequencing their genes. 

Although there are other efforts to study the microbes that reside in permafrost, this project, known as IsoGenie, is one of the most extensive and longest-running field studies. “We put together measurements in geochemistry and microbial ecology, two things in completely different areas, to find out something new,” an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a co-founder of the project, Scott Saleska, said.

Several years ago, Stordalen Mire was covered in permafrost. But today, because of the rising global temperatures, most of it has degraded into a patchwork of bogs and grassy wetlands, leaving raised mounds known as palsas behind, in which permafrost remains partially insulated by dry peat. As the palsas continue to thaw, scientists are eager to record the changes.

Scientists are worried that the thaw will lead to a massive rise in bacteria and archaea which will further lead to out break of gases like carbon dioxide and methane. “If your model doesn’t get the mechanism right, it’s probably not going to do a great job of making predictions,” said Carmody McCalley, a biogeochemist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New Yorkshire.

Scientists studying environmental sciences are looking closer at the organisms living in such an atmosphere. The powerful microbes found in transitional permafrost settings can make a difference in the types of greenhouse gas discharged. 

The depth of Arctic lakes could be more delicate to climate change than expected, owing to the types of microbes they host. And the availability of iron and other nutrients in the soil could accelerate greenhouse-gas production in some locations. 

There is no clarity about the changes in the landscape in response to warming. There are questions that are not answered yet, like, the role of viruses in the soil. Virginia Rich, a microbiologist at the Ohio State University in Columbus and the other co-founder of IsoGenie, said: “In the permafrost system, this is an acutely pressing need because these systems are thawing before our very eyes.” 

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