Solving the C-mystery

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The carbon cycle is one of the most important geochemical processes for life on earth, since it has a huge impact on climate and carbon is the central molecule of countless biological compounds. Since the beginning of the new millenium, the CO2 uptake of European ecosystems has drastically decreased, and for many years, the reasons why remained elusive. Now, researchers from the UAntwerpen have found the answer to the carbon enigma in two weather phenomena.

Since CO2 emission was linked to global warming and climate change, scientists have been investigating the processes that influence carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. One of the peculiar observations made was that since 2000, CO2 absorption in European ecosystems suddenly plummeted for no apparent reason. The team of Ivan Janssens at the Excellence Center for Global Change Ecology at the UAntwerpen has now uncovered a possible reason behind this curiosity of nature, which was revealed in a recent Nature publication.

Two weather phenomena seem to lie at the basis of the reduced CO2 absorption: the North Atlantic Oscillation (NOA) and the East Atlantic Pattern (EA). The two fluctuations in high or low pressure areas determine a large part of Europe’s climate and seasons. While the two normally fluctuate independently, the NOA and EA have been in antiphase for an extended period of time. This causes lower plant production (and consequently lower CO2 uptake) and increased breakdown of humus, leading to higher CO2 emission.

This discovery paves the way for research into different natural weather phenomena and their effect on the carbon cycle. Luckily, carbon uptake levels have been recovering since 2007, hopefully reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.