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In as early as fifty years one of the most devastating effects of global warming could be apparent with the erosion of farming soil due to the extinction of the very microbes that hold soil together. The microbes are likely to be affected by warming which could affect soil fertility. The tiny microbes; one of the most important communities on the planet make life possible for the rest of creation, according to new research by scientists in the US and Spain.

Ferrari Garcia-Pichel and colleagues report in the journal Science that they examined cyanobacteria in desert soils through the whole of North America. They found that two species dominated. One, called Microceleus steenstrupii, lives in the hot deserts while the other, M. vaginatus, prefers cold dry places.

But, of course, the planet is becoming warmer with each decade. “By using our data with current climate models, we can predict that in 50 years, the cyanobacterium that fares better in warm temperatures will push the cold-loving one off our map,” said Professor Garcia-Pichel.

       
Crytogramic soil (also known as soil crust or biocrust) is usually found in arid environments and can be made up of cyanobacteria, mosses and lichen.
The real hazard, for humans and other creatures that depend on cyanobacteria – and that adds up to all life on Earth – is that there is likely to be a knock-on effect on soil fertility, and soil erosion: it is the “living crusts” formed by these microbes that in many places hold the soil together, and sometimes researchers try to combat cases of severe erosion by injecting these cyanobacteria into the dust to act as soil stabilisers.
Scientists have known that global warming will have an affect on the habitats of plants and animals, but this new study shows that the very soil used to grow our food may be compromised by our warming planet.

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Comment Preferences

  •  lush and verdant (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RainDog2, Sunspots

    might well be the best description of the "warm" epochs of geologic history, and there is little reason to assume that the coming "warm" epoch won't be the same.  There will continue to be, as there are now, desert regions . . . at the same time large areas that are now cold, or dry, or otherwise "unproductive" will bloom . . . not necessarily with wheat or corn or soy, but with plants that some kinds of animals will like to eat.

    Don't be so Anthropocentric . . . life will bloom, boom and prosper on a "warmer" Earth . . .

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:12:53 AM PDT

    •  Time scale matters ... a lot (12+ / 0-)

      If the transition to higher temperatures was taking thousands to tens of thousands of years, as in most cases in the distant past, you would largely be correct.  The changes are in fact taking only tens of years.  That doesn't give evolution and adaptive migration enough time to prevent serious destruction of ecosystems, and in many such cases what comes next will not be so lush.

      The natural atmospheric carbon spike of about 55 million years ago provides an example from the oceans.  Carbon dioxide absorbed in the oceans decreased ocean pH to the point that much of the basis of the ocean food chain collapsed.  This was a geologically short event, but it still acted ten to a hundred times slower than what we've been forcing now.  It took the oceans about 200,000 years to fully recover.

      Nature doesn't have a general rapid response system to abrupt change.

      "Trust only those who doubt" Lu Xun

      by LookingUp on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:36:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  nature will respond . . . (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sunspots, northstarbarn

        quickly or slowly, as it sees fit.  To be sure humans have initiated a rapid and significant shift in planetary ecology . . . but it is hard to argue that it is/was not conscious and deliberate.  We had the technology to not burn coal or oil decades ago . . . and rejected its implementation.  So the planet responds . . . and not in ways that are perhaps as benign as we might have hoped.  It took an asteroid to "do in" the dinosaurs . . . we did it to ourselves, eyes wide open.

        Some humans will adapt, and perhaps survive, just as the birds survived the dinosaur extinction, made it through the transition, and found a happy niche in the "new world order".  And the cyanobacteria will do fine regardless . . . they've managed to survive several billions of years of "change" (and untold "ecological catastrophes").

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:07:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  All I Know How To Be Is an Anthro nt (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jfromga, VL Baker, lehman scott

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:38:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Absolutely true (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LookingUp, Deward Hastings, elwior

      I've said this in other columns: we need to frame the climate change argument in a selfish fashion.  We are saving the planet for OURSELVES.  Life in general will be fine, and as Deward suggests, may even be better off in a warmer planet.  But we sure won't be, and thats what we need to focus on.

      "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it... unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." -The Buddha

      by Brian A on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:10:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the "problem" with that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ageing Hippie

        is that some "humans" have figured out that they can do fine on a warmer planet (and devil take those who can't).

        It all depends on how you define "we" . . . and "humans" have a demonstrated history of caring more about tribe than about humanity . . .

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:21:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  No, we've begun a mass extinction event. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn

      Much of the complex life we see today will likely vanish or be greatly reduced in number.

      There is consensus in the scientific community that the current massive degradation of habitat and extinction of many of the Earth's biota is unprecedented and is taking place on a catastrophically short timescale. Based on extinction rates estimated to be thousands of times the background rate, figures approaching 30% extermination of all species by the mid 21st century are not unrealistic
      Sure, some day life will bloom again, but even so, earth's days as a habitable planet are numbered.

      Peter Ward explains what he thinks is the real and inevitable danger in his (I thought anyway) fascinating book The Medea Hypothesis.

      When Earth warms to the point that it no longer has cold poles and warm tropics, as the result of geologically released greenhouse gases, the oceans stop mixing. Without mixing, only the uppermost layer of the ocean remains oxygenated, and anaerobic bacteria that produce poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas thrive. Before long, the level of hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere becomes lethal, simultaneously poisoning living creatures and shredding the ozone layer.
      Of course, no one really knows the effects of 400+ ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere for centuries will have on earth. But I'm pretty sure it won't be good for humanity and most life forms for some time.

      "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis Brandies

      by Pescadero Bill on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:26:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  there have been several (0+ / 0-)

        mass extinction events in the past.  There have been several "warm earth" periods.  And because of the tilt of the earth's axis there are, and will continue to be, alternating "cold poles".  There will be "weather", there will be "climate", and there will be life on earth.  Maybe not "humanity" (although probably some will survive) but really, so what . . .

        It is a real shame that we have destroyed the planet that bore and nurtured us.  The early stages of that destruction were limited, and perhaps excusable as "accident" . . . a result of not knowing any better (that excuse has not applied for half a century now).  But humans drove species to extinction long before "global warming", and without appreciable remorse . . . there's something poetic in it that this time we're doing to ourselves what we have done to others.  To bad for the "innocent" species caught up in the destruction, but nature will create more to replace them, and maybe the next attempt at "intelligence" will not be quite as foolish as we were.

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:11:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Maybe work the equation backwards (13+ / 0-)

    If climate change damages the soil, perhaps improving the soil can reverse climate change.

    Some encouraging indications are emerging from the Marin Carbon Project. In a nutshell: careful management of soil quality using mindful but low-tech methods results in greatly increased sequestration of atmospheric carbon in the soil.

    Link.

    •  Exactly - mycorrhizal fungi (7+ / 0-)

      We may need to be selecting for heat and salt tolerant mycorrhizal fungi that make desert plants more drought tolerant, more efficient at absorbing nutrients from the soil  and that help to hold the soil in place.

      "They did not succeed in taking away our voice" - Angelique Kidjo - Opening the Lightning In a Bottle concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City - 2003

      by LilithGardener on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:58:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  exactly (7+ / 0-)

      and composting more than 3% of our food scraps and applying it to cover crops will is also a great soil healer. Soil can in fact be one of the solutions to the climate change problem.

      Ecology is the new Economy

      by citisven on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:27:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your linked diary is excellent (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        citisven

        I see it's from nearly a year ago now. Did you ever have any luck getting the story into a mainline publication?

        Maybe one aspect that keeps this idea from getting play in the big media is that it is not conventionally sexy. There is no high tech angle, no engineering breakthrough, no massive capital investment, no way to concentrate enormous profits in the hands of a few giant corporations and patent holders. None of that.

        Instead, the solution turns out to be just paying careful attention to the carbon cycle and intervening in a couple of places with a fairly light but consistent and intelligent touch.

        One way to put it, the solution is not heroic and masculine. It's kind of feminine, come to think of it. Not so much about slaying dragons and conquering the world-- more like caregiving and nurturing.

        The joke's on us guys, I guess :)

        •  couldn't have said it any better, DBunn (0+ / 0-)
          Instead, the solution turns out to be just paying careful attention to the carbon cycle and intervening in a couple of places with a fairly light but consistent and intelligent touch.
          You're so right, it's not a sexy story in the eyes of the mainstream media, though personally think it's incredibly sexy. I haven't been able to place it anywhere, even some of the publishers of alternative magazines at NN just kind of looked at me with blank stares.

          I have a few queries out, but so far no luck at all. I have a great story angle, as I've visited some of the farms up in Sonoma with great personalities. Still think it would be a great story for the New Yorker, but I can't even find an editorial contact for that magazine. But I will keep pushing and digging deeper on this story.

          Ecology is the new Economy

          by citisven on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:36:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Some thoughts about this (6+ / 0-)

    Surely this could be a big deal for regions closer to the equator, but people were already afraid that hotter regions could become deserts.  This only helps identify the reasons behind that.

    Further away in more temperate zones I suspect we will simply see climates change by maybe 2 hardiness zones, meaning that places like Minnesota will become more like Kansas.  There will be problems during transition years as plants that need certain dormancy periods may not get it and die, and pests that can only exist in warmer climates will migrate (as they have been already) and destroy existing plant life, but also opening the door for new plant life.

    Ironically, it is the South and their powerful, conservative, oil-supporting base that will get hit the hardest.

  •  Will alter? (12+ / 0-)

    Future tense?

    I would edit this to say "is altering".   Climate change IS altering our planet, the air, the oceans, and the soils.  

    Adaptation, although some is going on in the present tense, will become more important as time goes on.

  •  Thanks for this! Desert cryptogamic soil (14+ / 0-)

    is under constant assault by rampant OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) use.  In California, over a half million ATVs are within a few hours drive of any desert destination.  While most ATV riders stay on trails, you can easily see where ATVs have torn up the open desert in any park that allows them.

    Depending on surface conditions, one ATV can churn up one to fifty tons of dirt per mile, or up to an acre of destroyed crust per six miles of travel.   This crust takes centuries to recover and the destruction is compounded by erosion and invasive weeds which the ATVs often spread. People respond to endangered charismatic animals like the desert tortoises that get crushed, but the soil damage is more environmentally devastating.  Of course, the ATV industry likes to point out 'it's just a desert'.

    ATVs have a footprint bigger than the carbon one from the gasoline they burn.

    An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. -Benjamin Franklin

    by martinjedlicka on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:11:36 AM PDT

  •  Learned long ago that cryptogamic soil is fragile (6+ / 0-)

    and critical to the desert ecosystem of the southwest.
    Hikers like me were taught not to walk on it. So I composed a ditty to remind myself and my companions:

    Here I am in my hammock
    far above the cryptogamic
    No I won't tromp them critters in the soil.
    Oh I won't wreck their evolution
    Cause I've found a great soilution
    So us ecofreaks don't burn and boil:
    So here I am in my hammock
    swinging above the cryptogamic
    And to them microbios I stay loyal.

    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:26:04 AM PDT

  •  Infering devestation of soil fertility is absurd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deward Hastings, badger

    1) The article is about the formation of soil crusts in desert soils.  While these crusts are critical to desert ecosystems, they have nothing to do with the soils that humans use to cultivate food.

    2) The article suggests that the cold-loving bacteria will become progressively replaced by the warm-loving bacteria in a warming climate.  In both cases, there will still be a bacterium responsible for forming the crust.  So there is no destruction of soil crusts implied by the changing ecosystem.  

    3) The presence of both kinds of bacteria is actually evidence that these desert landscapes are resilient in the face of climate change, as one bacteria can replace the other in response.

    4) I hate to have to say this.  But yes, I do think global warming is a very very serious crisis that needs urgent and radical political action to address.

  •  If there is one microbe that GOPers will hate... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, MrJersey, maryabein

    it will be one named "vaginatus." Once word of this gets out, watch for them to accelerate the destruction.

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

    by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:38:35 AM PDT

  •  wasn't this... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein

    ...in a star trek episode once.  I guess we should start building the probe with all our cultural data in it now.  We also need to have something cooler than a flute to include.

    We Glory in war, in the shedding of human blood. What fools we are.

    by delver rootnose on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 09:24:57 AM PDT

  •  We are doomed (0+ / 0-)

    Anything that has the word, "vagina" in it is bound to be opposed by the Right with every fundamentalist fiber of their being.

    May the Conservative Supremes share Paula Deen's heart-stopping culinary tastes as much as they share her cultural ones.

    by pajoly on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 10:59:36 AM PDT

  •  Here is big news if this tech pans-out in the (0+ / 0-)

    effort to do replace Hydrocarbon fuels with Hydrogen http://www.bbc.co.uk/...

  •  Question as to title (0+ / 0-)

    "will alter" or "is altering" ...

    One of the common myths is that global warming/climate change is a problem of tomorrow rather than today.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:52:06 PM PDT

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