Permafrost CoreEarlier this year, we reported that a team of international researchers, including scientists from The University of Queensland, has discovered a microbe that is set to play a significant role in future global warming.

The international team found that the methane-producing micro-organism, known as a ‘methanogen’, was thriving in northern Sweden’s thawing permafrost in a thick subsurface layer of soil that has previously remained frozen.

The researchers suspected that the methanogen played a significant role in global warming by liberating vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soil close to the Arctic Circle in the form of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere.

New research published last week in Nature has further underscored the importance of this methanogen, by showing it to be the only methanogen with a strong relationship with methane isotope data.

UQ's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics post-doctoral researcher Ben Woodcroft said that the isotopic analyses are of particular interest because they can be used to determine how much methane in the atmosphere was generated by natural compared to anthropogenic sources such as landfill or agriculture.

“As the majority of permafrost will likely thaw over the coming century, the isotopic imprint of this methanogen should become increasingly clear,” he said.

More information about the research can be read here.

Image: About 1m soil core taken from Stordalen Mire in northern Sweden through the (right to left) peat surface, seasonally thawed 'active' layer, and permafrost.  (Photo courtesy Carrie McCalley and Tyler Logan)

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