Greenhouse gasses, ice cover, and the deep ocean shape Earth’s paleoclimate in unexpected ways

Featured Image: Line-scan image of sediment core from the Bay of Bengal. Image from the International Ocean Discovery Program. A. Volcanic ash associated with the Toba eruption. B. Pyrite-, foraminifer-, and shell fragment–rich sandy patch in foraminifer-rich clay with biosilica. C. Scaphopod in nannofossil-rich clay with foraminifers. D. Wood fragments in clay. E. Large dark gray burrow filled with the overlying sediment. F. Core disturbance (cracks) due to gas release when core liner was drilled on the catwalk. G. Minor core disturbance due to mud and water flow-in along the edges of the liner (~1 cm thickness).

Paper: Increased interglacial atmospheric CO2 levels followed the mid-Pleistocene Transition

Authors: Masanobu Yamamoto, Steven C. Clemens, Osamu Seki, Yuko Tsuchiya, Yongsong Huang, Ryouta O’ishi, Ayako Abe-Ouchi

Mention of the ice age may conjure up images of giant mastodons, ferocious saber-tooth tigers, or of a prehistoric squirrel trying so desperately to secure his acorn—all taking place on the vast amount of ice that covered portions of the globe. We know that periods of ice cover followed by stretches of warm weather was a standard pattern in our Earth’s history*, but there was something special about the last ice age (during the Pleistocene) and how long it hung around. 

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Breaking: all living things may produce methane, including you

Featured Image: Collage of Life.  Image courtesy Bryan K. Lynn.

Paper: Methane formation driven by reactive oxygen species across all living organisms

Authors: Leonard Ernst, Benedikt Steinfeld, Uladzimir Barayeu, Thomas Klintzsch, Markus Kurth, Dirk Grimm, Tobias P. Dick, Johannes G. Rebelein, Ilka B. Bischofs, Frank Keppler

You may have heard how methane is a “potent greenhouse gas.”  But what does that mean?  Even though there are fewer molecules released in our atmosphere when compared to carbon dioxide, methane holds onto heat 25 times more effectively than carbon dioxide.  In other words, if carbon dioxide acts as a linen sheet around Earth, then methane is akin to a downy comforter. 

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To understand Mars, scientists study Earth – but is this enough?

Featured Image: Top: Valley of the Moon, Atacama Desert, San Pedro, Chile, Earth.  Image courtesy Alf Igel.  Bottom: Jezero Crater, Syrtis Major Quadrangle, Mars.  Image courtesy Kevin M. Gill.

Paper: Gradient studies reveal the true drivers of extreme life in the Atacama Desert

Authors: D. Boy, R. Moeller, L. Sauheitl, F. Schaarschmidt, S. Rapp, L. van den Brink, S. Gschwendtner, R. Godoy Borquez, Francisco J. Matus, M. A. Horn, G. Guggenberger, J. Boy

Space.  The final frontier.  Or is it?  Boy and colleagues are not presenting the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, rather the clever investigation of scientists on Earth.  Their continuing mission: to understand the development of life in extreme environments, and how certain places on Earth geologically represent Mars and other planet analogues.  While Boy and colleagues are limited on intergalactic travel, their recent work clearly the defines expectations, inferences, and consequences of using a site on Earth as a replacement for another planet.  They conclude that the nearby climate and environment surrounding these analogue locations may lead to inaccurate comparisons, by altering soil moisture and salt content, for example.

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The surprising effects rivers have on our atmosphere

Featured Image: Rio Bermejo meeting up with the Paraguay River, on the boarder of Formosa and Chaco Provinces.  Image by Mapio. Used with permision.

Paper: Fluvial organic carbon cycling regulated by sediment transit time and mineral protection

Authors: Marisa Repasch, Joel S. Scheingross, Niels Hovius, Maarten Lupker, Hella Wittmann, Negar Haghipour, Darren R. Gröcke, Oscar Orfeo, Timothy I. Eglinton, and Dirk Sachse

In our current era of rapid climate change, it is critical we understand how every aspect of the Earth system affects carbon cycling.  New work by Marisa Repasch and colleagues shows that rivers, under the right conditions, might be able to sequester more carbon in the sediments than released into the atmosphere. However, these findings may reveal how human impacts to rivers will likely increase the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere.

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Metal-Eating Microbes Who Breathe Methane

Featured Image: Murky pond in Alaska with “rusty” iron-filled sediments. Image courtesy Jessica Buser. Used with permission.

Paper:  Sulfate- and iron-dependent anaerobic methane oxidation occurring side-by-side in freshwater lake sediment

Authors: Alina Mostovaya, Michael Wind-Hansen, Paul Rousteau, Laura A. Bristow, Bo Thamdrup

The table has been set and the food is all prepared. But this is no ordinary dinner party, it’s a microbe party! The guests sit down and proceed to dig into the main course; sulfur, rusty iron, and methane. Curiously, the guests are feeding each other, not themselves! This image seems pretty weird to us humans, but it’s a delight to these microbes. This collaborative method of eating occurs in pond and lake mud all around the world. In a new study, Mostovaya and colleagues describe one such feast in Danish Lake Ørn, that is not only collaborative but may mitigate climate change.

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Highway Maintenance “Drives” Carbon Release in Forests

Featured Image: Forest and highway between Trójmiasto and Gdynia, Northern Poland. Image courtesy Robin Hammam.

Paper: The proximity of a highway increases CO2 respiration in forest soil and decreases the stability of soil organic matter

Authors: Dawid Kupka, Mateusz Kania, Piotr Gruba

There has been a lot of talk about transportation as of late with America’s “Build Back Better Act”.  While these political decisions are partially informed by scientific research around climate change, particularly in the United States (where 30% of greenhouse gas emissions result from transportation by road, rail, and air each year), the negative impacts of transportation infrastructure on the climate and local ecosystems are often lost in political discussions.  In a new study in Scientific Reports, Kupka and colleagues discuss the broader impacts of highway maintenance on nearby forest soil ecosystems, finding that roadways themselves can increase carbon dioxide emissions by disrupting local carbon cycles.

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Ancient trees tell the story of modern climate change

Featured Image: Larch trees.  Image courtesy North Cascades National Park, used with permission.

Paper: Spring arctic oscillation as a trigger of summer drought in Siberian subarctic over the past 1494 years

Authors: Olga V. Churakova Sidorova, Rolf T. W. Siegwolf, Marina V. Fonti, Eugene A. Vaganov, Matthias Saurer

Seemingly straight out of a fairytale, ancient trees are able to convey details about Earth’s complex history to the scientists willing and able to listen.  Deep in the Siberian Arctic lie the secrets of past weather events, ocean currents, and droughts that occurred thousands of years ago, locked away in petrified wood and in the oldest living larch trees.  We often hear in the news how the Siberian forest is victim to extreme drought and fire—something that is new as of the recent century.  But how “new” are these events, and what exactly is perpetuating this new cycle? 

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Mercury on the Move

Featured image: Gravel and rocks crushed by the Greenland Ice Sheet.  Image courtesy PennStateNews, used with permission.

Paper: Large subglacial source of mercury from the southwestern margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Authors: Jon R. Hawkings, Benjamin S. Linhoff, Jemma L. Wadham, Marek Stibal, Carl H. Lamborg, Gregory T. Carling, Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon, Tyler J. Kohler, Rachael Ward, Katharine R. Hendry, Lukáš Falteisek, Anne M. Kellerman, Karen A. Cameron, Jade E. Hatton, Sarah Tingey, Amy D. Holt, Petra Vinšová, Stefan Hofer, Marie Bulínová, Tomáš Větrovský, Lorenz Meire, Robert G. M. Spencer

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at an astounding rate as our planet continues to warm.  Mercury levels in the glacial meltwater traveling into the ocean are the highest levels ever measured in natural systems and rival heavily polluted rivers in Asia.  By measuring and tracing mercury in the meltwater, Hawkings and coworkers estimated that the Greenland Ice Sheet contributes up to 10% of all mercury found in Earth’s Oceans today.  Where is this mercury coming from within the Greenland Ice Sheet?  It is not actually coming from the ice itself, but rather the rocks that have been crushed under the immense weight of the Ice Sheet over thousands of years.

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Antarctic seafloor oxygen is diminishing–and glaciers may be to blame

Featured Image: Iceberg floating through thin sea ice. Image courtesy NASA ICE, used with permission.

Paper: Glacial melt disturbance shifts community metabolism of an Antarctic seafloor ecosystem from net autotrophy to heterotrophy

Authors: Ulrike Braeckman, Francesca Pasotti, Ralf Hoffmann, Susana Vázquez, Angela Wulff, Irene R. Schloss, Ulrike Falk, Dolores Deregibus, Nene Lefaible, Anders Torstensson, Adil Al-Handal, Frank Wenzhöfer, Ann Vanreusel

Nothing compares to the ethereal beauty of a clear lake. Looking down, you can see a whole world flourishing below: plants, fish, and critters. Compare that to a cloudy, or turbid, lake and suddenly you may feel very small, worried about what’s lurking beneath you. New research shows that the Antarctic ocean is transitioning from clear to turbid water, with big implications for ocean ecosystems.

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Rust to the Rescue?

Featured Image: Shewanella putrefaciens CN-32 (a microbe capable of eating iron) on hematite (a rock containing iron). Image courtesy Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). Used with permission.

Paper: Organic matter mineralization in modern and ancient ferruginous sediments

Authors: André Friese, Kohen Bauer, Clemens Glombitza, Luis Ordoñez, Daniel Ariztegui Verena B. Heuer, Aurèle Vuillemin, Cynthia Henny, Sulung Nomosatryo, Rachel Simister Dirk Wagner, Satria Bijaksana, Hendrik Vogel, Martin Melles, James M. Russell, Sean A. Crowe, Jens Kallmeyer

Just as a crow may use a rock to crack a nut, certain microbes can use solid iron to crack open methane.  This consumption limits the amount of methane lost from lakes into the atmosphere, making it a crucial process in mitigating production of greenhouse gasses.  These microbes are abundant in freshwater sediments, and their specialized mechanism for cracking open methane is most likely one of the oldest metabolisms on Earth, providing a modern-day window into the past.

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