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June 04, 2021 Friday 05:57:27 AM IST

How Microbes Prevent Carbon Emissions Entering Atmosphere

A Michigan University Study (MSU) study has shown that large quantity of carbon is prevented from entering the atmosphere by microbial eco system formed in volcanic eruptions. A research team led by Karen Lloyd, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, and Donato Giovannelli, a Professor at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy-found that microbes sequesters huge amount of carbon dioxide. They estimated that 170 metric tons of carbon could be gobbled up by the ecosystem every year. 

These microbial ecosystem deep within the earth is fueled by chemicals produced by volcanic eruptions and continental collissions. 

In the new study, the team found microbes that live deep underground across the entirety of the subduction zone under Costa Rica act as gatekeepers, limiting the quantities of the chemicals, including important greenhouse gases, that make it into the atmosphere.

“These microbes use chemicals from the subduction zone to form the base of an ecosystem that is large and filled with diverse primary and secondary producers,” said the University of Tennessee’s Lloyd, a co-corresponding author of the paper. “It’s like a vast forest, but underground.”


A white “froth” that is a microbial biofilm floats on the surface of a hot spring enclosed by gray rocks and filled with clear water. A close-up photo of a hot spring reveals white microbial biofilms fueled by chemicals associated with volcanic activity. (Credit: Donato Giovannelli)

This suggests that the known qualitative relationship between geology and biology may have significant quantitative implications for our understanding of how the distribution of carbon and other elements on Earth have changed throughout its history, potentially impacting global climate.
Study reported in Nature Geosciences , April 22, 2021