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Health and Environmental Effects Research

WED Scientists Returning to Russia To Study Potential for Atmospheric Feedback Effects of Climate Change in Russia

Three scientists at NHEERL's Western Ecology Division (WED) are studying the potential for high-latitude terrestrial ecosystems in Russia to be affected by climate change and the potentials of these ecosystems to affect climate change through feedback effects to the atmosphere. The three scientists are working with colleagues from several Russian research institutes on determining carbon and pollutant levels in and the potentials for carbon and pollutant release from northern high-latitude soils. This work is part of a program to train former Soviet Union weapons scientists in environmental science. Chris Andersen, Mark Johnson, and Paul Rygiewicz are working on the project titled "Quantification of carbon stocks and pollution loads in Northern Latitude Soils: Assessment of potential release resulting from Climate Change." The project was initiated in 2008 when Drs. Andersen, Johnson, and Rygiewicz went to Russia to develop project goals and tasks. The final proposal outlining tasks is currently under review by the Russian National Academy of Sciences. The three will travel to Russia October 4 through October 17, 2009, to develop the work plan and to visit some of the research sites. The study is being conducted under the provisions of the International Weapons Non-proliferation Treaty and is being funded through the U.S. State Department and the EPA Offices of International Affairs and Science Policy. One goal of the program is to help realign former weapons scientists into nonweapons research activities.

The objective of the project is to determine the extent to which soil warming may cause the release of both carbon and pollutants that are currently bound in cold soils across a vast region of Russia. Field work will begin this fall at sites along a 1,600-km transect ranging from southwest of Moscow to the northern tundra near Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, which is above 61 N latitude. Scientists currently have a poor accounting of the total amount, distribution by depth, and the quality of carbon stored in taiga and tundra soils globally and how rapidly these pools of carbon might be oxidized as the climate warms, thereby contributing CH4 and CO2 to the atmosphere in a positive climate feedback loop. Similarly, many pollutants from decades of industrial production are currently bound in frozen soils in Russia, and it is uncertain the extent to which these will become biologically available as the soils warm. Using a variety of techniques, including a way to separate soil carbon into quality fractions developed at WED and pollutant analyses developed by the Russian participants, Russian scientists, chemists, atmospheric and ecosystem modellers, and microbiologists will characterize both soils and vegetation. This program will provide the Agency with new data on soil carbon sequestration and release and will inform consequences of climate shifts and potential feedbacks to the atmopshere in senstive and little-studied ecosystems. Similar soil carbon sequestration research is being conducted at WED as part of the ESRP and the developing research program on global climate change.

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