Global Warming’s Affect on Soil

When we think of Global Warming we think of the sea level rising and the glacier ice caps melting away, but what people dont’t really know is how the soil can responde differently as well. As winters get milder, changes occur underfoot and go largely unnoticed until critical thresholds are reached. Railroad tracks are deformed from the changes that are warming the land. Rocky peaks crack apart and spill into ravines. Whole mountainsides lose footing, creating flows of ice and mud that move as fast as a BMW on the Autobahn.

041222_perma_railroad_03About 24 percent of land area in the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by perennially frozen ground. Scientists call this permafrost. Another 57 percent extends down into much of the United States and Europe that freezes seasonally. This is a scary statistic and can cause dramastic changes to soil that has been frozen year round can end up being detrimental to humans and the environment around them. On a LiveScience I found out that: Permafrost exists at depth, and the surface layer above it freezes seasonally. When the seasonal freezing is of shorter duration, owing to climate warming, the seasonal thaw runs deeper and extends into the former permafrost. The active layer — freezing and thawing each year — grows deeper. Because water in the soil expands when frozen and loses volume upon melting, it causes uneven movements in the ground surface. Under sustained climatic warming, the consequences of disappearing permafrost could be very severe for structures.

Within a 4 degree (C) rise of global temperature about 20 percent rainfall will decrease, obviously causing less run-off water but will be destructive to the soil’s moisture content. Though it will cause less run-off in the southern-hemisphere, Global warming will cause more smowmelt which is importatn source of runoff. Up to one-half of the mass of moutains glaciers and small ice caps may melt away over the next hundred years which could substantially change the  health and content for each soil.

Antoni Lewkowicz of the University of Ottawa has studied several northern landslides and rockslides that he says can be at least partially attributed to thinning and weakening of ice or permafrost caused by climate warming. In one case, an earthquake broke off a weakening glacier in the Yukon. About 500,000 tons of ice raced down a mountain.

“By the time it reached the bottom it would have been going about 140 mph,” Lewkowicz said. These landslides can destroy buildings in seconds and if the Earth continues to get hotter than these ice slides will only become more common.

Many researchers are studying carbon sequestration, the process of plant life absorbing the carbon that humans or other animals have been putting into our atmosphere. While the CO2 amounts are about 380 ppm in the atmosphere today, and rising, researchers are trying to find a method or species of plant that would be able to absorb/consume the massive amounts of carbon reducing the greenhouse gas tremendously. They are looking for a way so that the plants will sustain the carbon and not just put massive amounts back into the environment.

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2 Responses to Global Warming’s Affect on Soil

  1. lpg42010 says:

    Alex,
    Great blog! I like how you found a topic most people don’t normally think of or commonly relate to Global Warming. Another important point that is related to soil and comes to effect global warming is methane gas. After reading about the seasonal melting of permafrost I remember a lesson about methane gas that Dr. Pillar mentioned last semester in Geology. Thanks for helping me come up with a blog and also expanding my knowledge on global warming.

  2. amynoelsmith says:

    Whoa! This is crazy! You’re absolutely right! I never think about the effects global warming as on soil. This is kind of scary. If the soil is affected this much, what is else and how is it going to affect us?! Scary thought….

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