News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Squirrels causing global warming in Arctic, digging burrows warms soil, releases CO2, AGU presentation-BBC. UPDATED: Squirrels and beavers "forcing climate scientists to alter models" to predict global warming, UK Telegraph

12/16/14, "Arctic ground squirrels unlock permafrost carbon," BBC, Rebecca Morelle

"Arctic ground squirrels could play a greater role in climate change than was previously thought. Scientists have found that the animals are hastening the release of greenhouse gases from the permafrost - a vast, frozen store of carbon.

The researchers say it suggests the impact of wildlife on this area has been underplayed.

The findings are being presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

Dr Sue Natali, from Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, US, said: "We know wildlife impacts vegetation, and we know vegetation impacts thaw and soil carbon. 

"It certainly has a bigger impact than we've considered and it's something we will be considering more and more going into the future."

The Arctic permafrost where deep layers of soil remain frozen all year round, covers nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere and contains a great deal of carbon.

Dr Natali explained: "Carbon has been accumulating in permafrost for tens of thousands of years. 

The temperature is very cold, the soils are saturated, so that when plants and animals die, rather than decompose, the carbon has been slowly, slowly building up

"Right now the carbon storage is about 1,500 petagrams (1,500 billion tonnes). To put that in perspective, that's about twice as much as is contained in the atmosphere."

The fear is that as the planet warms, the permafrost will thaw, releasing even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise further still.

However, Dr Natali said that until now there had been little research into the effect that animals could have on this system.

To investigate, Dr Natali and Nigel Golden, from the University of Wisconsin, looked at ground squirrels: small, fluffy rodents that are found across the Arctic.

As part of the Polaris Project, they travelled to Siberia to study the squirrels' underground burrows.

Mr Golden said: "They are soil engineers. They break down the soil when they are digging their burrows, they mix the top layer with the bottom layer, they are bringing oxygen to the soil and they are fertilizing the soil with their urine and their faeces."

The team found that this activity meant that their burrows were warmer than the surrounding ground. Mr Golden said: "We saw an increase in soil temperature in the soils where the arctic ground squirrels were occupying. 

"This is a major component. As that permafrost begins to warm, now microbes can have access to these previously frozen carbons that were in the soil. "And because they mix the soil layers, they are being exposed to warmer temperatures."

The team also found that the nitrogen that squirrels were adding to the ground through their waste was having an impact. 

While this fertilizer can counteract greenhouse gas loss by causing plants to grow (which then soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), it can also feed microbes in the soil, accelerating the amount of carbon dioxide and methane-both greenhouse gases - that are being released.

Dr Natali said: "If ground squirrels are adding nitrogen to an area - and that area doesn't have plants because they dug them up - this may result in increased loss of carbon from the system."

She concluded that squirrels were playing "a far more important role in this permafrost carbon cycle than we thought".

The team now wants to return to the area to quantify how much carbon is being unlocked by the squirrels - and to assess how other wildlife is affecting the area.

The researchers also want to assess how the thawing permafrost will impact on the squirrel populations themselves."

Image: Arctic ground squirrel, Thinkstock, via BBC 

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12/17/14, "Squirrels and beavers contributing to global warming more than previously thought," UK Telegraph, Agency and staff

"Rodents such as squirrels and beavers are contributing far more to global warming than previously thought, forcing climate scientists to alter the models they use to chart how the world is warming up.

Arctic ground squirrels churn up and warm soil in the Tundra, releasing carbon dioxide, while methane released by beavers contributes 200 times more methane than they did 100 years ago, according to scientists from the American Geophysical Union. 
Faeces and urine produced by rodents are speeding up the release of carbon from the permafrost, the vast store of greenhouses spanning the Arctic Circle, researchers found. Dr Sue Natali, from the AGU, said "We know wildlife impacts vegetation, and we know vegetation impacts thaw and soil carbon.
"It certainly has a bigger impact than we've considered and it's something we will be considering more and more going into the future."

Dr Natali added: "Carbon has been accumulating in permafrost for tens of thousands of years. The temperature is very cold, the soils are saturated, so that when plants and animals die, rather than decompose, the carbon has been slowly, slowly building up. 

"Right now the carbon storage is about 1,500 billion tonnes. To put that in perspective, that's about twice as much as is contained in the atmosphere." 

As part of the Polaris Project, Dr Natali, from Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, and Nigel Golden, from the University of Wisconsin travelled to Siberia to study the underground burrows of arctic squirrels. 

The team found that this activity meant that the burrows were warmer than the surrounding ground, while nitrogen that the squirrels were adding to the ground through their waste was also having an impact.

Beavers, meanwhile, have dammed up more than 16,200 square miles of ponds. A separate paper, published in the journal AMBIO, found that beavers are responsible for releasing around 881,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere each year, much more cud-chewing animals such as deer or antelope. 

It means scientists will in the future have to alter their theories around anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change to take account of 'rodentopogenic' influences, scientists told Mail Online.

A paper by Dr Natali and Dr Golden, to be presented to the AGU, says: "While this fertiliser can counteract greenhouse gas loss by causing plants to grow, which then soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it can also feed microbes in the soil, accelerating the amount of carbon dioxide and methane - both greenhouse gases - that are being released.""
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Added: 8/21/14, "Global warming 'to resume in a decade'," UK Telegraph




 

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