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Carbon dioxide: to fix and to hold.
27.06.2005 00:00

Georgiy Zavarzin, RAS academician, and Valeriy Kudeyarov, DSc (RAS Institute for Physical, Chemical and Biological Problems of Soil Science) presented scientific report Balance of Organic Carbon in Natural Zones of Russia during the regular session of Russian Academy of Science General Committee. Heres its brief summary.
      The problem of greenhouse gases, first of all carbon dioxide, is fundamental, because atmospheric carbon dioxide directly influences Earths climate changes in all existing models of global climate. Quantitative estimates of carbon cycles, including global ones, were regularly analyzed by scientific community in the late sixties after publication of first results of the research conducted under the aegis of the Rome Club. Then, after signing the Kyoto Protocol, the issue of carbon dioxide obtained political actuality and international importance. The protocol established CO2 emission quotas for different states, which caused contradictory discussions and complex reaction not only among wide public but also among state governments. US administration of G. Bush, for example, disowned its signature under the protocol. Therefore, in this situation position of the Russian government should be based on deep understanding of global climate changes that take place on our planet. In this respect Russian Academy of Science has official request to estimate science feasibility of Kyoto agreements.
      Russian scientists started dealing with carbon and related carbon dioxide problems (without time and place limitation) since the beginning of XX century, so now Russian science possesses a great store of knowledge about global carbon dioxide cycle on our planet. It offers a possibility of the competent approach to this problem. Thus, is appears necessary to estimate carbon dioxide sinks and sources within Russian territory to work out Russias deliberate position towards Kyoto protocol.
       Certain territory carbon dioxide balance consists of plant primary production (sink), dead biomass decomposition (source) and its accumulation in stable debris humus (store). Special Intergovernmental Commission IPCC constantly estimates global carbon cycle (in giga-tons, Gt). According to its recent planetary balance the Earth has a residual sink of around 1.8 Gt per year, 0.7-1.8 Gt of which is considered to belong to latitudes higher that 30 degrees, i.e. territory of Russia.
      According to global cycle research, more than 50% of carbon is required for plant and soil respiration. Human activities share 4% on the global scale. The rest is for seas and oceans. Vegetation is one of the most important stores, where atmospheric carbon dioxide goes. Carbon pool in terrestrial ecosystems vegetation worldwide is estimated at 550 Gt, 40 of which belong to Russian forest ecosystems. Russian plant ecosystems have average annual productivity of 4.4 Gt of carbon.
      Time of carbons presence in plant ecosystems plays a significant role in its global cycle calculations. Carbon, assimilated by plants, first goes to the dynamic store (green biomass) with residence time up to one year. Carbon, accumulated to woody biomass can be stored for several hundred years. And finally the fact, we often forget dead biomass turns to humus, in which carbon residence time exceeds thousand years. Moreover, humus with time partly transforms to stable organic matter, which is hardly consumed by microorganisms, and where carbon can be stored for ten and even hundred thousand years.
      Global carbon store in soil is 1500 Gt. You can compare it to carbon store in vegetation 550 Gt. Meanwhile soils as organic carbon stores are paid much less attention when carbon cycles are compilated. This fact has an explanation. Until now soils worldwide were studied only as fertility source. Different ecosystems have different carbon balance. If we take moderate climate zone of Russia, with podzolic soils under the forests and relatively small annual production, we will find low level of organic carbon destruction. That is why organic carbon accumulation in soil is common for Russian boreal territories and tundra. High organic matter content in chernozems proves that in steppe ecosystems accumulative type of carbon balance has lasted for hundreds and thousands of years in the past. For 4-5 thousand years the soils stored about 100-150 kg of carbon per hectare. Nowadays carbon losses due to soil degradation and erosion are about the same. The result is that there is no accumulation of carbon in arable chernozems now.
      We should mention the fact that soils of Russian taiga store more carbon than soils of Africa and Latin America rainforests. This seeming paradox can be easily explained. The research showed that organic carbon accumulation in soil depends mainly on microbial transformation of organic carbon part of organic matter not eaten by microorganisms and not on the rate on production (photosynthesis). In equatorial forests due to fast biomass growth the carbon is fixed at a very high rate, but its microbial destruction is very fast too, so accumulation of carbon in these soils goes very slowly. And under wet and cold conditions of Russian taiga forests organic matte destruction by microorganisms is hampered, so significant amounts of carbon are stored in these soils. Another carbon storage is bogs. Plant residues are slowly decomposed under anaerobic conditions, peat is accumulated, and this leads to carbon intensive fixation on vast Russian boggy territories. As for permafrost zone, its carbon accumulation also exceeds carbon sinks.
      Russian organic carbon stores are 39.8 Gt in vegetation and 296 Gt in soils. It is 7.2% of 550 Gt of world phytomass carbon and 19.7% of 1500 Gt of world soil carbon. Organic matter flow to phytomass in Russia is 4.4 Gt per year 7% of total terrestrial ecosystems production.
      Annual industrial carbon dioxide emission in Russia is 0.42 Gt. One more significant source of carbon dioxide fungal decomposition of large wooden residues (debris) on the soil surface brings about 0.21 Gt to the atmosphere each year. Other Russian carbon dioxide sources are: forest fires and after-fire emission (24Mt per year), wood harvesting (18 Mt per year), rivers (60 Mt per year), agriculture (40 Mt per year), fuel burning (418 Mt per year), etc.
       Estimates show that carbon balance on Russian territories is 800 Mt/year shifted towards accumulation. It means that Russian Federation is a significant global sink of carbon dioxide with natural sink almost twice as higher as its industrial emission. Soils play very important role in carbon accumulation. And if we dont take their influence into consideration, we wont be able to count global carbon cycle properly. Moreover, insufficient attention to soil cover role in global cycles leads to several huge lacunas in general biosphere pattern. In this respect its important to mention that Russian soil scientists, due to maintaining existing scientific schools, occupy leading positions in world soil science.
      Source: Poisk Newspaper.


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