The Hot Zone

An emissions filter

Posted by Alison Hawkes on September 1, 2010
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

Peat bogs are an amazing carbon store. Up to a third of all the terrestrial carbon on Earth is captured by this kind of acidic wetland, a depository of dead plant material in northern ecosystems that are very biodiverse.

As the planet warms, a lot of that carbon is being released back into the atmosphere as methane, one of the more potent forms of greenhouse gases. The source: the anaerobic degradation of a kind of moss called Sphagnum.

Sphagnum decays in peat bogs.

But a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that rotting Sphagnum can be mitigated by a kind of bacteria called methanotrophs, which oxidize the gas and turn it into carbon dioxide, which is then available for the mosses to consume and grow.

The methanotrophs effectively act as a kind of “emissions filter,” the authors led by Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands write. They did a worldwide survey of Sphagnum ecosystems to assess the distribution and activity of  methanotrophs.

A peat bog on Ben Lee, Skye Island, Scotland. Photo by Richard Dorrell.

They found that increases in methane release, as a result of global temperature rise, could be counteracted by fostering this kind of Sphagnum -methanotrophs relationship.

The symbiotic exchange plays a role in carbon recycling in these waterlogged ecosystems. But that they could actually reduce methane emissions as well is something special.

-Alison Hawkes

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