Friday, 31 October 2014

Methane-releasing microbes: Another positive feedback

From the climate change denying publication 'par excellence'

Comments from Kevin Hester that sum things up so well:

"If there was one thing I would like NZ to learn from this speaking tour it is that carbon is no longer in the drivers seat in this unfolding train smash, methane is the real enemy. We all know it, it is the general public that needs to be brought up to speed because as in the Permian extinction it is methane that is going to get us."

Mysterious microbes are speeding up climate change: New species is releasing huge amounts of methane, study finds
  • Scientists found the microbe in permafrost soil of northern Sweden
  • The soil had begun to thaw under the effects of globally warming
  • Microbes may have played a role in warming by releasing methane
  • Methane gas is responsible for trapping heat in Earth's atmosphere
  • Find could help scientists improve their models on climate change




24 October, 2014

Tiny microbes hidden in the soil are one of the major amplifiers of global warming.
But researchers are unsure whether these microbes are slaves to their environment or the cause of climate change.

Now, scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, claim to have evidence that a single species of microbe found in Sweden may be driving global warming.

Scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, claim to have shown that a single species of microbe found in Sweden may be driving global warming. The researchers installed special instruments for measuring methane changes using Plexiglas chambers that trap the gases emanating from the soil
Scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, claim to have shown that a single species of microbe found in Sweden may be driving global warming.


The researchers installed special instruments for measuring methane changes using Plexiglas chambers that trap the gases emanating from the soil

The discovery could help scientists improve their simulations of climate change by including data on how microbes control the release of gases, such as methane.

Earlier this year, scientists found a single species of microbe in permafrost soils of northern Sweden that had begun to thaw under the effect of globally rising temperatures.

Researchers suspected that the microbe played a role in global warming by releasing vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soil close to the Arctic Circle in the form of methane.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

But the actual role of this microbe - dubbed Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, which roughly translates to 'methane-bloomer from the Stordalen Mire' - was unknown.

The discovery in Sweden could help scientists improve their simulations of climate change by including data on how microbes control the release of gases, such as methane
The discovery in Sweden could help scientists improve their simulations of climate change by including data on how microbes control the release of gases, such as methane

The international research team installed automated chambers that measure greenhouse gases emanating from the soil as microbes metabolise nutrients previously locked up in the permafrost soil

The international research team installed automated chambers that measure greenhouse gases emanating from the soil as microbes metabolise nutrients previously locked up in the permafrost soil.

The new research pins down the role of the new microbe, finding that the amount of Methanoflorens, should help to predict their collective impact on future climate change.

'If you think of the African savanna as an analogy, you could say that both lions and elephants produce carbon dioxide, but they eat different things,' said senior author Scott Saleska, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.

'In Methanoflorens, we discovered the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an enormously important role in what happens to the whole ecosystem.'

DID MICROBES CAUSE THE WORST MASS EXTINCTION IN HISTORY?

Climate-changing microbes, known as Methanosarcina (pictured), may have caused the biggest mass extinction in history
Climate-changing microbes, known as Methanosarcina (pictured), may have caused the biggest mass extinction in history


The worst mass extinction in Earth's history - long before dinosaurs roamed the planet - was caused by microbes, according to a recent study.

The tiny organisms suddenly began belching out the greenhouse gas methane - which is about 20 per cent more potent than carbon dioxide - some 250 million years ago.

Fumes spurted from the oceans wiping out 90 per cent of all species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians in less than 20,000 years.

The 'Great Dying' occurred more than 252 million years ago - long before dinosaurs lived roamed Earth - at the end of Permian era.

In the past asteroids, volcanoes and raging coal fires have been blamed but the finger is now being pointed at tiny microbes called Methanosarcina.

These spewed enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, dramatically altering the climate and the chemistry of the oceans.

Unable to adapt in time, countless species perished and vanished from the Earth.
Alarmingly, the same effects are starting to happen today as a result of global warming caused by carbon emissions. 

The study revealed that because of these microbial activities, all wetlands are not the same when it comes to methane release.

'This has been a major shortcoming of current climate models,' said lead author Carmody McCalley, at the University of New Hampshire.

'They assume the wrong isotope ratio coming out of the wetlands, the models overestimate carbon released by biological processes and underestimate carbon released by human activities such as fossil-fuel burning.'

To study microbes, researchers drive cores into the ground at Abisko National Park in northern Sweden
To study microbes, researchers drive cores into the ground at Abisko National Park in northern Sweden

One of the big questions facing climate scientists, according to Professor Saleska, is how much of the carbon stored in soils is released into the atmosphere by microbial activity.

'As the "global freezer" of permafrost is failing under the influence of warming, we need to better understand how soil microbes release carbon on a larger, ecosystem-wide level and what is going to happen with it,' he said.

'For years, there's been a debate about whether microbial ecology 'matters' to what an ecosystem collectively does,' added Virginia Rich from the University of Arizona.

'This work shows that microbial ecology matters to a great degree, and that we need to pay more attention to the types of microbes living in those thawing ecosystems.'

Projected temperature change from 2081-2100. One of the big questions facing climate scientists, according to Professor Saleska, is how much of the carbon stored in soils is released into the atmosphere by microbes
Projected temperature change from 2081-2100. One of the big questions facing climate scientists, according to Professor Saleska, is how much of the carbon stored in soils is released into the atmosphere by microbes



Recently discovered microbe is key player in climate change

Recently discovered microbe is key player in climate change

Recently discovered microbe is key player in climate change
Study site, Stordalen Mire in Abisko National Park in Sweden, just north of the Arctic Circle. Credit: Scott Saleska

22 October, 2014

Tiny soil microbes are among the world's biggest potential amplifiers of human-caused climate change, but whether microbial communities are mere slaves to their environment or influential actors in their own right is an open question. Now, research by an international team of scientists from the U.S., Sweden and Australia, led by University of Arizona scientists, shows that a single species of microbe, discovered only very recently, is an unexpected key player in climate change.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, should help scientists improve their simulations of future climate by replacing assumptions about the different greenhouse gases emitted from thawing permafrost with new understanding of how different communities of microbes control the release of these gases.

Earlier this year, the international team discovered that a single species of microbe, previously undescribed by science, was prominent in permafrost soils in northern Sweden that have begun to thaw under the effect of globally rising temperatures. Researchers suspected that it played a significant role in global warming by liberating vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soil close to the Arctic Circle in the form of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. But the actual role of this microbe—assigned the preliminary name Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, which roughly translates to "methane-bloomer from the Stordalen Mire"—was unknown.

The new research nails down the role of the new microbe, finding that the sheer abundance of Methanoflorens, as compared to other microbial species in thawing permafrost, should help to predict their collective impact on future climate change.

"If you think of the African savanna as an analogy, you could say that both lions and elephants produce carbon dioxide, but they eat different things," said senior author Scott Saleska, an associate professor in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the UA's new Ecosystem Genomics Institute. "In Methanoflorens, we discovered the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an enormously important role in what happens to the whole ecosystem."


Significantly, the study revealed that because of these microbial activities, all wetlands are not the same when it comes to methane release.

"The models assume a certain ratio between different forms, or isotopes, of the carbon in the methane molecules, and the actual recorded ratio turns out to be different," said lead author Carmody McCalley, a scientist at the Earth Systems Research Center at the University of New Hampshire who conducted the study while she was a postdoctoral researcher at UA.

 "This has been a major shortcoming of current climate models. Because they assume the wrong isotope ratio coming out of the wetlands, the models overestimate carbon released by biological processes and underestimate carbon released by human activities such as fossil-fuel burning."

Soil microbes can make methane two different ways: either from acetate, an organic molecule that comes from plants, or from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
"Both processes produce energy for the microbe, and the microbe breathes out methane like we breathe out carbon dioxide," McCalley said. 

"But we find that in thawing permafrost, most methane initially doesn't come from acetate as previously assumed, but the other pathway. This ratio then shifts towards previous estimates as the frozen soils are turned into wetlands and acetate becomes the preferred carbon source."

One of the big questions facing climate scientists, according to Saleska, is how much of the carbon stored in soils is released into the atmosphere by microbial activity.

"As the 'global freezer' of permafrost is failing under the influence of warming, we need to better understand how soil microbes release carbon on a larger, ecosystem-wide level and what is going to happen with it," he said.

Said UA co-author Virginia Rich: "For years, there's been a debate about whether microbial ecology 'matters' to what an ecosystem collectively does—in this case, releasing greenhouse gases of different forms—or whether microbes are just slaves to the system's physics and chemistry. This work shows that microbial ecology matters to a great degree, and that we need to pay more attention to the types of microbes living in those thawing ecosystems."

Added McCalley: "By taking microbial ecology into account, we can accurately set up climate models to identify how much methane comes from thawing permafrost versus other sources such as fossil-fuel burning."


More information: 'Methane dynamics regulated by microbial community response to permafrost thaw' Nature , 23 October 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature13798


This is not entirely new.  This is from the University of Queensland, in February

Newly discovered microbe holds key to global warming

Scientists from The University of Queensland have discovered a microbe that is set to play

Scientists document the temperature of soil, one layer above permafrost. Supplied image: Dr Virginia Rich, University of Arizona.
Scientists document the temperature of soil, one layer above permafrost. Supplied image: Dr Virginia Rich, University of Arizona.







19 February, 2014


UQ's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics researcher Ben Woodcroft said the methane-producing micro-organism, known as a ‘methanogen’, was thriving in northern Sweden’s thawing permafrost in a thick subsurface layer of soil that has previously remained frozen.

Mr Woodcroft said no one knew of the microbe’s existence or how it worked before the research discovery.

He said global warming trends meant vast areas of permafrost would continue to thaw, allowing the microbes to flourish in organic matter and drive methane gas release, which would further fuel global warming.

“The micro-organism generates methane by using carbon dioxide and hydrogen from the bacteria it lives alongside,” Mr Woodcroft said. 
Lead researcher and UQ’s Australian Centre for Ecogenomics Deputy Director Associate Professor Gene Tyson said the findings were significant. 
This micro-organism is responsible for producing a substantial fraction of methane at this site,” he said.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with about 25 times the warming capacity of carbon dioxide.”

The researchers showed the organism and its close relatives live not just in thawing permafrost but in many other methane-producing habitats worldwide.

The team made the discovery by using DNA from soil samples and reconstructing a near-complete genome of the microbe, bypassing traditional methods of cultivating microbes in the lab.
The ‘Discovery of a novel methanogen prevalent in thawing permafrost’ research is published here in the journal Nature Communications.

PhD candidate Rhiannon Mondav who is student of UQ and Uppsala University based in Sweden, co-authored the paper alongside ACE researchers and international collaborators.

The work was funded by the United States Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research’s Genomic Science Program and the Australian Research Council.
Media: ACE Deputy Director Associate Professor Gene Tyson, 
07 3365 3829,g.tyson@awmc.uq.edu.au or UQ Faculty of Science Communications Officer Monique Nevison, 07 3346 4129, m.nevison@uq.edu.au.


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