There have been enough scary headlines about climate change for us to know that warming temperatures could have disastrous effects on our planet. Increased carbon content from industrial processes leads to higher atmospheric and oceanic temperatures fueling melting glaciers and ice caps leading to rising oceans, etc.
And as temperatures increase, some ecosystems will warm to the point that vegetation will die off and release carbon, which causes higher atmospheric and oceanic temperatures…and so on. Scientists believe this would be particularly true for arctic peat bogs. Peat bogs are thick wetlands vegetation that scientists say help the earth’s climate by storing about a third of the planet’s soil-based carbon after using carbon dioxide to grow. If these plants die because their climate gets too hot, they will release carbon into the atmosphere, starting the cycle again that fuels global warming.
But recent research from professors at Lehigh University, the University of Hawaii and Bowdoin College suggests warming arctic temperatures may have another impact. Plants like to grow in warm weather. As temperatures rise in the Arctic, more vegetation will likely grow and spread, effectively creating a larger “carbon sponge” that could possibly suck more carbon out of the atmosphere and hold it for a long period of time.
The researchers and their students took peat core samples up to five meters deep to find out when the vegetative growth began storing carbon. They found these soil ecosystems began storing carbon in measurable quantities some 11,500 years ago as peat growth was robust during a warming period. They also found that peat bogs in warmer southern climates tend to store more carbon.
Increased carbon sequestration (storage) would be one important, unexpected benefit of a warming arctic. That said, the researchers are quick to add that larger peat areas will not offset the amount of increased carbon we are currently dumping into the atmosphere and oceans. Rather, the research suggests these arctic wetlands could help reduce some of the atmospheric carbon released from increased decomposition.
Put another way, if we were to significantly reduce our carbon emissions, the planet’s own natural defenses – peat bogs, in this case – could actually help us out more than it does now. This is interesting because it underscores the notion the planet could take care of itself better if we were to give it a chance.