Studying Climate Change on the Ground

The most obvious effects of climate change are of course in the air temperature, the weather and the sea levels. However it is also known to cause other problems indirectly such as damaging the soil. There is research though particularly with a group of American scientists to investigate how this can be changed.

The study is centred around Antartica, one of the toughest environments on the face of the Earth. These areas are so barren that in fact up until a few decades ago many scientists thought it incapable of supporting life. However if you dig down underneath the icy surface, there are millions of microscopic worms called nematodes which are positively thriving here. These little creatures are helping scientists to understand the effects of climate change.

This years Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement has actually been awarded to one of these researchers – Soil scientist Diana Wall. She has spent twenty years studying these creatures mainly in the Antartic. The Nematodes capture and store the carbon which is otherwise released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately the nematode that lives in this harsh environment is struggling due to the rising temperatures and being replaced by a rival organism. The problem is that the new Nematode doesn’t store carbon which suggests more will be released into the environment.

The study of soil and the organisms that live in it, is mainly quite a new science. However advances in molecular biology and ecology, have meant that scientists are continuing to find new life forms with different functions all the time. The link in with climate change is obvious with a huge US Government project now looking at how farmers can slow climate change by conserving the release of carbon into the atmosphere by storing it into the soil.

There are also studies using salt marshes which are being used to model the effects of climate change particularly in coastal areas. The realisation is growing that climate change through it’s changes in temperature, rainfall and plant activity all have an impact on the soil’s ability to store carbon. There is hope that better soil management techniques can actually encourage the soil to store more carbon rather than impacting the already high levels in the atmosphere.

Here’s a great little video about one of the more common nematodes. Everyone should be able to see it although there may be some countries that can’t if you get the message – video not available in your country, then try using this or another proxy server or VPN to bypass the blocks. For some reason, many scientific and educational resources seem to ge blocked online depending on your location, not sure why though.

Jim Hargreaves

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