As the world continues to warm, scientists have warned that there is another hidden danger living in the soil. Global soil contains up to three times as much carbon as the atmosphere does.
The carbon has been stored there throughout Earth’s history, and it is in danger of being released.
As the planet heats up, decomposition of soil also accelerates, which in turn releases carbon which has been stored in it.
According to a new study from the University of Exeter, up to 230 billion tons of carbon could be released if temperatures exceed 2C warming compared to pre-industrial levels.
The study said that 230 billion tons is more than double what the US has produced in the last century while it is more than four times as much as China.
With the planet having already warmed by 1C since the industrial revolution, time is ticking for humanity to make amends.
Dr Sarah Chadburn, of the University of Exeter, said: “Our study rules out the most extreme projections—but nonetheless suggests substantial soil carbon losses due to climate change at only 2C warming, and this doesn’t even include losses of deeper permafrost carbon.”
It is an effect known as ‘positive feedback’ where once climate disaster leads to another and another.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, said that carbon soil remains the biggest area of uncertainty in the battle against climate change.
As such, the team from the University if Exeter addressed this by using a combination of observational data and Earth System Models which simulate the carbon and climate cycle which lead to better climate change predictions.
Study lead author Rebecca Varney, of the University of Exeter, said: “We investigated how soil carbon is related to temperature in different locations on Earth to work out its sensitivity to global warming.”
State of the art models had suggested an uncertainty of 120 billion tons of carbon at 2C levels, where as the latest reduces it to 50 billion tons.
Co-author Professor Peter Cox, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, said: “We have reduced the uncertainty in this climate change response, which is vital to calculating an accurate global carbon budget and successfully meeting Paris Agreement targets.”
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A recent report from the UN, the World Meteorological Organization and other global science groups has said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic which brought much of the world to a standstill, emissions continue to rise.
According to the study, methane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide – the three major greenhouse gasses – continued to rise in 2020.
The study, which also included the most up to date figures from 2019, found that global fossil CO2 emissions reached a new record high of 36.7 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2019 – 62 percent higher than in 1990.
Researchers involved in the study believe there is a 20 percent chance Earth will hit the 1.5C level by 2024.
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