Hidden Carbon Sink Beneath Desert

Geophysical Research Letters (July 28, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015GL064222) / by Fan Li, et al.

For decades, global carbon budget accounting has identified a “missing” or “residual” terrestrial sink; i.e., carbon dioxide (CO2) released by anthropogenic activities does not match changes observed in the atmosphere and ocean. We discovered a potentially large carbon sink in the most unlikely place on earth, irrigated saline/alkaline arid land. When cultivating and irrigating arid/saline lands in arid zones, salts are leached downward. Simultaneously, dissolved inorganic carbon is washed down into the huge saline aquifers underneath vast deserts, forming a large carbon sink or pool. This finding points to a direct, rapid link between the biological and geochemical carbon cycles in arid lands which may alter the overall spatial pattern of the global carbon budget.

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