Caused in part by greenhouse gases, the 'feedback loop' of climate change can trigger even higher CO2 emissions.
The increased rate at which organic matter decomposes in warm, humid areas is boosting C02 and methane emissions in tropical and fluvial regions of the world, according to a new international report.
The findings, released Wednesday in Science Advances, suggest rising temperaturesfurther aggravate climate change by increasing greenhouse gas emissions in regions not previously analyzed.
Oakland University Professor Scott D. Tiegs and his 150-strong research team "used a peer-sourced research network and a highly standardized carbon processing assay to conduct a global-scale field experiment in more than 1,000 river and riparian sites."
According to the study, carbon processing depends on the temperature and humidity rates of any given location: "Slow processing is evident across latitudes, whereas rapid rates are restricted to lower latitudes."
Carbon is produced by organic matter in forests and jungles, including fallen branches and leaves. Part decomposes and is stored in the forest floor, but much is transported by the rains to rivers and streams, and from there to the ocean.
Several previous studies examine the decomposition of organic matter in rivers, but Professor Tiegs and his team analyzed factors marking the process.
"These results and data set the stage for unprecedented next-generation biomonitoring by establishing baselines to help quantify environmental impacts to the functioning of ecosystems at a global scale," the study concludes.
The results suggest climatic factors such as temperature and precipitation are "important variables" that accelerate the decomposition of carbon and generate a vicious circle exacerbating climate change.