Global Warming Is Pushing Microbes into Damaging Climate Feedback Loops & Raising Health Risks — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

In marine environments, microbial primary production contributes substantially to CO2 sequestration. Marine microorganisms also recycle nutrients for use in the marine food web and in the process release CO2 to the atmosphere. In a broad range of terrestrial environments, microorganisms are the key decomposers of organic matter and release nutrients in the soil for plant growth as well as CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere. Microbial biomass and other organic matter (remnants of plants and animals) are converted to fossil fuels over millions of years. By contrast, burning of fossil fuels liberates greenhouse gases in a small fraction of that time. As a result, the carbon cycle is extremely out of balance, and atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to rise as long as fossil fuels continue to be burnt. The many effects of human activities, including agriculture, industry, transport, population growth and human consumption, combined with local environmental factors, including soil type and light, greatly influence the complex network of microbial interactions that occur with other microorganisms, plants and animals. These interactions dictate how microorganisms respond to and affect climate change (for example, through greenhouse gas emissions) and how climate change (for example, higher CO2 levels, warming, and precipitation changes) in turn affect microbial responses. OMZ, oxygen minimum zone.

Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for Inside Climate News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Research is raising serious concerns about the impact of climate change on the world’s tiniest organisms, and scientists say much more attention is needed.

All life on Earth evolved from microorganisms in the primordial slime, and billions of years later, the planet’s smallest life forms—including bacteria, plankton and viruses—are still fundamental to the biosphere. They cycle minerals and nutrients through soil, water and the atmosphere. They help grow and digest the food we eat. Without microbes, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.

Now, global warming is supercharging some microbial cycles on a scale big enough to trigger damaging climate feedback loops, research is showing. Bacteria are feasting on more organic material and produce extra carbon dioxide as the planet warms. In the Arctic, a spreading carpet of algae is soaking up more of the sun’s summer rays, speeding melting of the ice.

Deadly pathogenic microbes are also spreading poleward and upward in elevation, killing people, cattle and crops.

So many documented changes, along with other alarming microbial red flags, have drawn a warning from a group of 30 microbiologists, published Tuesday as a “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

The microbiologists, in their statement, warned about changes they’re already seeing and called for more research to understand the potential impact. The statement “puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on responses of microorganisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future,” they wrote.

Click here to read, “Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change.” Here’s the abstract:

Abstract

In the Anthropocene, in which we now live, climate change is impacting most life on Earth. Microorganisms support the existence of all higher trophic life forms. To understand how humans and other life forms on Earth (including those we are yet to discover) can withstand anthropogenic climate change, it is vital to incorporate knowledge of the microbial ‘unseen majority’. We must learn not just how microorganisms affect climate change (including production and consumption of greenhouse gases) but also how they will be affected by climate change and other human activities. This Consensus Statement documents the central role and global importance of microorganisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on responses of microorganisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.

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