Small microbes in the soil are among the greatest potential human amplifiers of climate change.
But whether they are just ordinary slaves in their environment or influence it in their own way is not yet sufficiently known.
A study by an international team of scientists from the United States, Sweden and Australia, led by scientists of the University of Arizona, found that a kind of microbes, which were recently discovered, play an unexpectedly important role in climate change.
Earlier this year, an international team of researchers revealed a kind of microbe in the frozen surface in northern Sweden. So far unknown to science, it began to melt as a result of global warming.
The researchers suspect that this microbe has a significant role in global warming by releasing large amounts of carbon (trapped in the frozen surface of the Arctic circle) in the form of methane. (which is a powerful greenhouse gas that captures heat in the atmosphere.)
However, the exact role of this microbe, originally called “Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis”, was unknown.
This research narrows within the real role of newly discovered microbes, showing abundance of “Methanoflorens”.
Compared to other microbe types involved in melting icebergs, it can help predict their joint impact on future climate change.
“Methanoflorens” is the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an extremely important role in what is happening in the entire ecosystem.
This study reveals that due to these microbial activities, all water surfaces are not the same as methane release.
“Models assume a certain relationship between the various forms, or isotopes, of carbon in methane molecules. But the real measured ratio differs from the same.”
– says lead author Carmody McCalley, a research scientist at the University of New Hampshire.
“This is a major drawback of current climate models because they assume the wrong ratio of isotopes from water surfaces. The models overestimate carbon release from biological processes. And underestimate the carbon release from human activity, such as, for example, combustion of fossil fuel”.
Microbes from the soil can produce methane in two different ways: from acetate or from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
“Both processes generate energy for microbes and microbes “exhale” methane as we exhale carbon dioxide,” says McCainy.
“However, we found that on melting ice surfaces, most of the methane initially does not come from acetate, as previously thought, but through another route. Then, as ice surfaces turn into water surfaces, that ratio changes. And then the acetate becomes the main source of the carbon.”
One of the main issues scientists face is how much carbon is released from the soil in microbial activities.
For years it has been debated whether microbial activity is important for what is happening in the overall ecosystem. That is, about releasing greenhouse gases, or microbes are simply slaves to the physics and chemistry of the system.
This study has shown that they have a significant impact.
And it is therefore necessary to pay more attention to microbes belonging to ecosystems in areas where ice surfaces melts.
“When taking into account microbial activities, it will be possible to set up a more precise model for determining how much methane comes from melting surfaces. As opposed to other sources, such as combustion of fossil fuels,” McCainy added.