A new study published in the Nature Climate Change journal has found that arid desert areas, which are among the largest ecosystems on the planet, are taking in surprisingly large amounts of carbon as the levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere. These new finding allow scientists to get a better grasp on just how much carbon is in the atmosphere as CO2 which in turn contributes to global warming and how much gets stored in the land through carbon-containing forms.
This study was lead by biologists at Washington State University. This research was conducted over a stunning 10-year period in which they found plots in the Mojave Desert in California that possessed elevated carbon levels like those that scientists predicted to find in 2050 opposed to today in 2014. The researchers then removed the soil and plants as far as a meter deep and measured how much carbon was absorbed. The idea for this experiment first came from the scientists at the Nevada universities at Reno and Las Vegas when R. Dave Evans, a professor of biological sciences specializing in ecology and global change, and his team was brought in from Washington State University. Evans was able to garner funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Terrestrial Carbon Processes Program as well as the National Science Foundation's Ecosystem Studies Program.
This research addresses one of the bigger unknowns of global warming: the degree in which the land-based ecosystems absorb or release carbon dioxide as it increases in the atmosphere. Since arid climates in desert ecosystems receive less than 10 inches of rain per year and have little in the way of decomposing organic matter compared to forests, they provide clearer results than other ecosystems. This lack of decomposing organic matter also allows for desert ecosystems to hold and absorb more carbon from the air than other landscapes as well as allow researchers to measure the amount of carbon it absorbs.