At a time when scientists and environmental groups are trying to raise awareness about the issue of Global warming and climate change, a new research suggests that warming soils could be releasing more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, thus potentially triggering a Feedback Loop that may cause the Earth to get hotter and hotter in the long run.

Pioneering experiment started in 1991

This experimental study was carried out by a joint team of researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Massachusetts. The experiment, which is still ongoing, started in 1991 in a deciduous forest in Massachusetts.

Researchers selected a patch of the forest and divided it into six blocks—each consisting of three square plots. In total, there were 18 identical plots.

In each of the six blocks, one plot was threaded with electric cables to artificially heat the Soil and increase its temperature by 9°F. The second plot in the block was also threaded with electric wires, but its temperature was not increased. The third plot (control plot) was left alone.

The results of this experiment revealed that when the temperature of the soil is increased, the breakdown of organic material in the soil by microbes also speeds up, thus causing more CO2 to be released into the air.

Different phases of the experiment

The first phase of the experiment ran from 1991 to 2000. During this phase, researchers observed substantial and rapid CO2 release from the heated plots.

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During Phase II of the experiment—from 2001 to 2007—almost no difference in CO2 release from different plots was noticed. The third phase of the experiment continued from 2008 to 2013, and in this phase, CO2 release from heated plots was again found to be more than that from the control plots. The fourth phase of the study is currently ongoing, and researchers are again noticing a drop in CO2 release from the heated plots.

Two-stage cycle

According to researchers, this complete mechanism occurs as a two-stage cycle. The increase in CO2 release causes the Earth’s temperature to increase, which further results in more soil to warm up and release more CO2 into the atmosphere. In this way, this cycle keeps on repeating itself, and once this self-continuing feedback mechanism starts, there is no way to turn it off.

The detailed findings of the study were published in Science.