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Bacterial Goldilocks

July 29, 2010

Bacteria find thawed arctic soils really yummy. That might be good for the bacteria, but it could be bad for the planet.


Bacterial Goldilocks. …I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Frozen Arctic soils are thawing. Scientists think bacteria will eat that thawed soil matter and release its carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. But that will happen only if the sun has “cooked” the matter “just right” for the bacteria. Biogeochemist Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her colleagues are studying how much cooking results in carbon release. They’re finding it doesn’t take much.

ROSE CORY (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill):
If we’re right about this, this is potentially not good for climate change because it means that this organic matter is going to be very easily turned over — quickly turned over — from a stable pool of carbon to CO2 in the atmosphere.

If the bacteria preferred their food well done instead, Cory says it could just wash harmlessly into the ocean. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.