Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Microbes Solving Macro-Problems: Bacteria Used to Fight Global Warming

A newly discovered type of bacteria may save humanity from the catastrophic aftermath of global warming when all the Arctic ice melts, US researchers say.

Princeton University scientists have discovered that Arctic soil contains methane-consuming microorganisms which could slow  global warming down, Phys.org reported.

As the Arctic ice cap continues to recede to unprecedented levels each year, huge loads of carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere, pushing global temperatures higher and higher. However, at that moment, soil bacteria from the Upland Soil Cluster Alpha group start absorbing that methane, turning it into methyl alcohol, according to the study published in The ISME Journal.

Moreover, researchers noted, this bacteria' capability to neutralize methane in the atmosphere increases as global temperatures rise.

For instance, according to Princeton University's blog, "During a three-year period, a carbon-poor site on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada’s Arctic region consistently took up more methane as the ground temperature rose from 0 to 18 degrees Celsius (32 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit)."

If global temperatures rise by roughly 15 degrees within the next century, soil bacteria are estimated to be able to consume 30 times as much methane as they absorb from the air nowadays, scholars estimate. That would prevent the planet from heating up any further despite over a trillion tons of gas that now is locked up in the Arctic ice being released.

"We don't have a direct answer as to whether these Arctic soils will offset global atmospheric methane or not, but they will certainly help the situation," Chui Yim Lau, one of the authors of the study said.

The scholars are optimistic about the prospects of using Arctic bacteria and suggest that if it’s ubiquitous in all arctic soils, it will play a major role in the regulation of methane levels in the atmosphere throughout the world in the future.



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