(p. 96) UNDERSTANDING how the oceans absorb carbon dioxide is crucial to understanding the role of that gas in the climate. It is rather worrying, then, that something profound may be missing from that understanding. But if Jiao Nianzhi of Xiamen University in China is right, it is. For he suggests there is a lot of carbon floating in the oceans that has not previously been noticed. It is in the form of what is known as refractory dissolved organic matter and it has been put there by a hitherto little-regarded group of creatures called aerobic anoxygenic photoheterotrophic bacteria (AAPB). If Dr Jiao is right, a whole new “sink” for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been discovered.
. . .
. . . , Dr Jiao and his (p. 97) colleagues propose that AAPB, and possibly other, similar microbes, have a predominant role in pumping carbon into a pool of compounds that cannot be turned back into carbon dioxide by living creatures, thereby building up a large reservoir that keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. If that idea is confirmed, it will need to be incorporated into the computer models used to understand the Earth’s carbon cycle and its effect on the climate. But it also raises a more radical thought. The newly discovered microbial carbon pump could provide a novel way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, should that ever be deemed necessary to combat climate change.
For the full story, see:
“Bacteria and climate change; Invisible carbon pumps; A group of oceanic micro-organisms just might prove a surprising ally in the fight against climate change.” The Economist (September 11, 2010): 96-97.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 9, 2010.)