Has climate change also started due to soil? Shocking information found in research
Carbon is being released from the soil due to nitrogen
Nitrogen dissolves in the air due to the construction of industries, activities related to agriculture, burning of fossil fuels in vehicles. Because of this, the level of nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere has tripled since 1850. Now research has been done to find out whether this extra nitrogen in the air has also affected the soil’s ability to hold carbon, so that it can turn into a greenhouse gas. This research paper titled ‘Effects of experimental nitrogen deposition on soil organic carbon storage in Southern California Drylands’ has been published in the journal Global Change Biology. In this, researchers have found that due to nitrogen being released from dry soil, carbon is being released back into the atmosphere, due to which it can contribute to climate change.
What did the research team find?
Peter Homyak, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at UC Riverside and co-author of the research paper, said, ‘Because nitrogen is used as a fertilizer for plants, we expected that the excess nitrogen would affect plant growth as well. Microbial activity will also increase and due to this the amount of carbon in the soil will increase. This is different from what he had seen in dryland soils in much of southern California. In contrast, the team found that under certain conditions the soils of drylands acidified and freed more nitrogen and calcium. Calcium binds the carbon and the two hold the soil together.
How can nitrogen affect the biological process of the soil?
To reach any conclusion, researchers collected samples of soils where nitrogen was used as a fertilizer for a long time. This allowed them to see how the amount of nitrogen used made an impact. In many cases, nitrogen can interfere with biological processes, thereby affecting the soil’s ability to store carbon. This can affect the process of plant growth and reduce the ability of micro-organisms that help decompose dead matter in the soil.
What was learned about the abiotic process?
The researchers did not expect that abiotic processes would also have a significant effect on carbon storage in the soil. But, the results have been shocking. It has also been observed in many places that due to this, the ability of soil to retain carbon has been affected, because calcium has loosened its hold in the abiotic process. Johann Püspök, first author of the study and a student of environmental science at UCR, commented, ‘This is a surprising result, as the main effect appears to be abiotic…’ According to him, ‘this means that without Open areas of soil with no plants and low microbial activity, which I always thought were areas with nothing special, are also affected by nitrogen pollution…’ Whereas, dryland soils, in which Moisture is scarce and organic matter levels are low, covering roughly 45% of the Earth’s surface. Large amount of carbon in the world must be in this.
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Reducing carbon emissions is the future
Scientists say more research is needed to determine the extent to which dryland soils around the world have been affected by nitrogen pollution. According to Püspök, ‘we need more information about how widespread the effects of such acidification are and how they act in nitrogen fixation under non-experimental conditions.’ However, even the researchers are currently unable to understand how these conditions can be prevented. That’s why he is stressing on reducing emissions as much as possible so that soil carbon is saved. “Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels affects a number of human health factors, including asthma,” says Homyak. It can also affect the amount of carbon that dry land can store for us. So for many reasons we need to control air pollution.