Importance of Natural Resources

NAU researcher: Tiny soil microorganisms can impact climate change

>>Theresa Bierer: Global warming affects all
of us, the more we learn about the nuts and bolts about global warming the better chance
we have of doing something about it. On this next Inside NAU science segment professor
Bruce Hungate conducts research on the peaks on global warming.
>>Bruce Hungate: I find ecology fascinating, microbiology especially really interesting
how soil microorganisms control nutrient cycles and how that affects how plants grow. And
it turns out that those same microorganisms actually have the potential to impact climate
and that just blows me away, these little tiny cells in the soil having an effect on
the global scale, I just think that’s cool. The Earth’s getting warmer; the intergovernmental
panel on climate change that synthesizes all this climate change research says that most
of that warming we’ve seen is due to human activities. We want to be able to say how
much more warming is going to happen and one of the missing pieces is how will ecosystems
respond to climate warming? One of the ways they can respond is by producing more of the
very gases that warm the earth. So this research is really focused on that question, we’re
using the elevation gradient right here in our backyard in Flagstaff. So we have five
field stations along that gradient, they start at the top in the Mixed-Conifer Forest at
the Ponderosa, to the Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands to the high desert grassland to the Great
Basin Desert. To simulate global warming what we’re doing is we’re taking a micro ecosystem,
a piece of the ecosystem, the soil, the plants, all together from one life zone and we’re
moving them down the gradient one step. And what that does is it simulates roughly the
warming projected for the next 5,200 years. It’s a really nice way to manipulate warming
for a couple of reasons; you’re warming both the air and the soil that’s realistic and
it’s very easy to maintain. We’re getting ready now to measure the production and consumption
of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, from these plots.
>>James Brown: This is the chamber that we use, it’s got an attachment at the top for
the canisters and so we place it over the core, make sure we have an airtight seal and
we take one of the canisters that immediately sucks up 100CC sample. Then we use a syringe
to pull an extra 60ccs inject it into the canister to over pressurize the canister so
that we can run it on the GC back at the lab.>>Hungate: Carbon dioxide is the most important
greenhouse gas that humans are producing and causing to increase in the atmosphere but
methane and nitrous oxide are the next two important ones.
>>Student: We’re going to take a sample of the trace gas that is inside this cylinder
and we’re going to inject it into our pre-concentration unit to prepare it for the Gas Chromatigraph,
which is also referred to as a GC. The Gas Chromatigraph actually separates the different
gasses that are contained inside of the sample and then it allows for a measurement to be
made on a single gas and in particular using this instrument we’re looking at nitrous oxide.
>>Hungate: Nitrous oxide is also laughing gas, right what you get in the dentist office
and it’s increasing in the atmosphere, not enough to make the world a happier places
but it is enough to contribute to the warming. Nitrous oxide, molecule per molecule is about
300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide so it’s an important greenhouse
gas too. One of the things we hope is that by doing experiments like this, by looking
into the details of one community and one ecosystem, we can take those responses and
distill from them some general principles that tell us about how ecosystems will respond
to climate change. The plants we see in these tiny little plots right here are actually
very relevant to what we expect in terms of how the world works 50 to 100 years from now
when our climate will presumably be warmer.>>Ellen Grabarek: Hi I’m Ellen Grabarek, the
project director for Del E. Webb Dental Outreach Program, you’re watching Inside NAU.

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