Soil organic matter is what makes dirt fertile and able to support plant life - both of which are especially important for agriculture. Organic matter retains water in the soil and prevents erosion. Natural processes of decomposition of soil organic matter provide plants and microbes with the energy source and water they need to grow and carbon is released into the atmosphere as a by-product of this process. Warming temperatures are expected to speed up this process, which will increase the amount of CO2 that is transferred to the atmosphere.
'From the perspective of agriculture, we can't afford to lose carbon from the soil because it will change soil fertility and enhance erosion' Simpson said. 'Alternatively, consider all the carbon locked up in permafrost in the Arctic. We also need to understand what will happen to the stored carbon when microbes become more active under warmer temperatures.'
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By Laura Matthews