What am I doing in Greenland this summer? I’m analyzing gas, pretty much. No, dehydrated camp food is not the most digestively soothing, but that’s not what I’m getting at (this time). I’m talking about my field research, measuring the carbon dioxide gas that is released from ground. To do this, we use a “gas analyzer” that looks like this:
When we put the chamber on the surface we can measure an accumulation of carbon dioxide gas as it is released from the ground.
Effectively, we are watching and measuring the breath of the critters, microscopic organisms and roots in the soil. As shown above, during a two minute observation we see the CO2 levels rise from the concentrations in air (about 390 parts per million, or ppm) to nearly 500 ppm. The slope of the line represents how quickly the gas is being released from the ground. If we were to captured the breath that you exhale we would also see an increase in carbon dioxide!
In ecosystem ecology, this release of carbon dioxide from the soil is called “soil respiration”. It is particularly interesting to study soil respiration in the Arctic because the cold climate limits decomposition so lots of carbon has accumulated in Arctic soil over time. Furthermore, there are still a lot of questions about how this stored carbon will respond to climate warming — will the amount of stored carbon increase? or will soil respiration increase and perhaps cause an overall decrease in the amount of carbon in the soils? One way or another, this process has the potential to influence the global carbon cycle and future climate.
Did you know that soils breaths? There is a lot of life churning below our feet and we can measure it with a gas analyzer. Plus, the Arctic is a hot spot, so you can be sure that I will be busy all summer. Pretty cool, right? Bring up soil respiration at the next cocktail party, it will be a huge hit, I swear ;).