Eroding mountains may slowly seep carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a process that could have implications for future research on global warming. Past studies show that mountain erosion and rock weathering can pull carbon dioxide from the air because newly exposed rocks react with the atmosphere. However, recent research gives some of the first evidence that erosion actually helps create new CO2.
Such a discovery is interesting because it sheds light on the erosion process and gives insight into a brand new mechanism.
“This goes against a long-standing hypothesis that more mountains mean more erosion and weathering, which means an added reduction of CO2,” said lead author Jordon Hemingway, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, in a statement. “It turns out it’s much more complicated than that.”
A team of international researchers found this discovery by studying a mountain chain in Taiwan that has some of the most erosion-prone peaks on Earth. During their research, the team were surprised to discover that the soil samples taken from the area had almost no organic carbon.
That odd finding spurred more research that showed, once weather exposed the rocks through erosion, small microorganisms began to feed on them. It is those tiny organisms that release CO2 into the atmosphere.
While the amount of CO2 being released by the critters is not large enough to impact climate change, understanding the erosion process could be important. Not only could it have implications regarding global warming, but it could help scientists better understand Earth’s carbon cycles as well.
Researchers are not currently sure what bacteria are eating the rock, but they aim to find out soon.
“We don’t yet know exactly which bacteria are doing this — that would require genomics, metagenomics, and other microbiological tools that we didn’t use in this study,” said study co-author Valier Galy, a marine geochemist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, according to UPI. “But that’s the next step for this research.”
This research is published in the journal Science.