Researchers from Cornell University, Ohio State University, Technical University of Munich, and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station are using synchrotron light to study how moisture affects soil carbon – an important ingredient for healthy crops and fertile fields.
“Because of climate change, the Earth is warming and humidity events are becoming more dramatic,” said Itamar Shabtai, a science assistant at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station who was a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Integrative Plant Sciences at Cornell University during this study. “So, environments and soils can become drier or wetter depending on location.”
Shabtai said that while the effects of extreme temperatures are somewhat understood, the influence of moisture on soil organic carbon is still unclear. In an article published in Geochemistry et Cosmochimica Acta, Shabtai and his team examined the impact of moisture and found that microbes in moist soils process organic inputs and store organic carbon in the soil better than in drier soils.
Understanding how microbes and moisture affect soil carbon can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The team hopes their findings will influence soil management practices, help mitigate the impacts of climate change and improve predictions of what will happen to carbon in drier soils that cannot be easily managed.
The researchers obtained this information by analyzing their soil samples on the SGM line of light at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan. “We were able to understand that there is more carbon with microbial spectral characteristics in moist soils and more carbon that appears to come directly from plant carbon in drier soils, which would have been nearly impossible without synchrotron technology,” Shabtai said.