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Climate Change

Microbes and their impact on the Earth's climate are studied to discover the role microbes play in climate change.

Microbiology

Carbon Cycling

Browse samples of USGS research about climate change and carbon cycling. For related links, see Related Links and References at the bottom of page.

Pacific Northwestern forest. Photo credit: USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Forests and Soil Biogeo-chemistry
(Perakis)

Bonanza creek. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS

Methanogen and Boreal Peatlands
(Waldrop)

Earth. Photo credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Microbes and Response to Global Change (Waldrop)

Sampling for permafrost microorganisms with a permafrost auger. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS

Permafrost Microbiology (Waldrop)


Forests and Soil Biogeochemistry
Pacific Northwestern forest. Photo credit: USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Pacific Northwestern forest. Photo credit: USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium and other nutrients are key factors governing the productivity of forest ecosystems and their response to climate change and disturbance.  Forests of the Pacific Northwestern USA are among the most productive and carbon rich on Earth, and soil microbial communities play an important role in sustaining that productivity.  Soil microbial communities are critically important for recycling nutrients by the decomposition of soil organic matter, and supply the bulk of these essential nutrients that plants need for growth and carbon uptake.  Our work examines the biogeochemical functional roles that soil microbial communities play in forest ecosystems through detailed measurements of soil nutrient recycling rates, biological nitrogen fixation, organic matter turnover, nutrient leaching, and soil fluxes of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).  Understanding the functional response of soil microbial communities to myriad environmental factors (e.g., climate, geology, natural and human disturbances, tree species, soil development) is important for predicting the response and recovery of forest ecosystems to local, regional, and global events such as logging, wildfire, and climate change.

For more information visit the Terrestrial Ecosystems Laboratory and contact Steven Perakis, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center.

See also Ecosystem Function: Soil >>

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Methanogen Response to Climate Change in Boreal Peatlands
Bonanza creek. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS
Bonanza creek. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS
Image Gallery

Moisture is one of the most important variables controlling carbon storage in northern ecosystems. USGS researchers are examining how natural gradients in soil moisture and manipulated soil moisture and temperature affect the size and activities of decomposers, methanogens, and N cycling organisms, and how changes in the abundances of microbial functional groups affects biogeochemical cycles.

For more information visit Dr. Mark Waldrop Projects and contact Mark P. Waldrop, USGS Soil Carbon Research at Menlo Park.

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Microbial Communities and Carbon Cycling in Response to Global Change
Earth. Photo credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Earth. Photo credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Global change phenomena such as climate warming, permafrost thaw, wildfires, and drought are affecting terrestrial ecosystem biogeochemistry, particularly in northern latitudes, but also in the continental U.S. Soil microbial communities are critical to the carbon biogeochemistry of ecosystems; for they decompose as much carbon as is annually photosynthesized by plants. There is strong evidence that variation in the composition of the belowground microbial community affects the way in which ecosystems function, and this can affect regional to global biogeochemistry. Particular functional groups of microorganisms, such as decomposer fungi, have a disproportionate effect on elemental cycles. For example, in northern latitude soils, climate warming is accelerating permafrost thaw and wildfire intensity, altering the abundance of soil decomposers which has direct effect on rates of biogeochemical processes. This and other types of microbial community information can be used by the next generation of mechanistic microbial-based C cycling models. A next step will be to merge bioinformatics with geoinformatics that can be used to build a spatially explicit map of microbial biogeography that is linked to environmental and process data. Such a map has many uses beyond understanding ecological principles that structure community composition and diversity. Such spatially explicit information can potentially be used for assessing how global change will affect microbial communities and the biogeochemical processes (e.g. C, N, S cycling) within specific regions. There are currently several continental scale inventories taking place by USGS, USFS, DOE, and NSF researchers and these inventories can be linked to a multi-institution effort to study vulnerabilities within the carbon cycle. Microbial communities are central to biogeochemical processes, and linking microbial information with biogeochemical models and biogeographical data is a new frontier for microbiological research within the USGS.

For more information visit Dr. Mark Waldrop Projects and contact Mark P. Waldrop, USGS Soil Carbon Research at Menlo Park.

See also Ecosystem Function: Soil >>

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Permafrost Microbiology
Sampling for permafrost microorganisms with a permafrost auger. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS
Sampling for permafrost microorganisms with a permafrost auger. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS
Image Gallery

Carbon (C) stored within permafrost in northern boreal forest soils may become available for microbial metabolism if soil temperatures continue to increase over the coming decades, resulting in a positive feedback to climate warming. Understanding the potential of permafrost carbon to be degraded requires a detailed understanding of the microbiology and biochemistry of permafrost soils. Utilizing novel techniques in molecular biology (including microarrays and metagenomics), fluorometry, and mass spectrometry, we are analyzing the biological and chemical constraints on decomposition and methane fluxes at the molecular level. Testing the potential genetic and chemical limitations on C fluxes are cutting-edge approaches that are only made possible through recent technological advances. Our detailed genetic and chemical analyses will provide data with which to make future predictions of C cycling processes, and assist in the development of mechanistic C cycling models in cold environments.

For more information visit Dr. Mark Waldrop Projects and contact Mark P. Waldrop, USGS Soil Carbon Research at Menlo Park.

See also Climate Change: Permafrost >>

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Related Links and References


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