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Nature paper co-authored by UT Arlington professor sheds new light on effects of Arctic warming

Friday, May 24, 2013

Media Contact: Traci Peterson

News Topics: environment, research, science

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A recent paper in the journal Nature that is co-authored by UT Arlington College of Science associate professor of biology Laura Gough is challenging long-held ideas about the effects of temperature increases in the Alaskan tundra.

Laura Gough

Laura Gough

High latitudes contain nearly half of global soil carbon, and scientists have been concerned that warming temperatures could lead to increased microbial activity and more of that carbon being released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Increased carbon dioxide releases would then speed warming even more, enhancing the greenhouse effect.

Instead, the research team working at the U.S. Arctic Long Term Ecological Research Site in northern Alaska found that carbon stocks in soils subjected to 20 years of experimental warming did not differ from soils that experienced ambient air temperatures. Gough and her co-authors believe a complicated interplay between increased woody-shrub growth and the soil could be counteracting the warming effects.

But, even with their surprising findings, Gough and her fellow researchers say it’s too soon to say what the long-term effects of climate change on carbon stocks will be. More study is needed in the form of continued monitoring as the Arctic continues warming and additional experiments that alter temperatures over the long-term. These results highlight the need for long-term studies as earlier results from similar experiments found different short-term responses, Gough said.

“This is what happened over this time period, but will it hold? We don’t know,” Gough said.

Co-authors on the work were from UC Santa Barbara, Colorado State University and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. A press release from UC Santa Barbara is available here:

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