Extreme Temperature Diary-Thursday November 14th, 2019/Could Bacteria Release More Carbon As The Planet Gets Warmer?

Thursday November 14th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Main Topic: Could Bacteria Release More Carbon As The Planet Gets Warmer?

Well this is a new topic for me. I hate to bug everyone about a new potential climate problem (pun intended😉). I was under the false assumption that climate change would not affect microorganisms such that they would influence the carbon cycle, but perhaps we all need to wake up to this new danger. Today I am reposting a Physics piece brought to my attention by Professor Peter Strachan of Scotland that strongly suggests that as the world warms the biology of many kinds of bacteria will change such that more carbon is emitted, exacerbating the climate crisis. I want to warn my readers that the following has frightening implications:


November 12, 2019

Bacteria may contribute more to climate change as planet heats up

by Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London

Bacteria may contribute more to climate change as planet heats up

A lake tinged pink by salt-loving halobacteria. Credit: Slavko Sered/Shutterstock

As bacteria adapt to hotter temperatures, they speed up their respiration rate and release more carbon, potentially accelerating climate change.

By releasing more carbon as global temperatures rise, bacteria and related organisms called archaea could increase climate warming at a faster rate than current models suggest. The new research, published today in Nature Communications by scientists from Imperial College London, could help inform more accurate models of future climate warming.

Bacteria and archaea, collectively known as prokaryotes, are present on every continent and make up around half of global biomass—the total weight of all organisms on Earth.

Most prokaryotes perform respiration that uses energy and releases carbon dioxide—just like we do when we breathe out. The amount of carbon dioxide released during a given time period depends on the prokaryote‘s respiration rate, which can change in response to temperature.

However, the exact relationship between temperature, respiration rate and carbon output has been uncertain. Now, by bringing together a database of respiration rate changes according to temperature from 482 prokaryotes, researchers have found the majority will increase their carbon output in response to higher temperatures to a greater degree than previously thought.

‘Double whammy’ effect

Lead researcher Dr. Samraat Pawar, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “In the short term, on a scale of days to hours, individual prokaryotes will increase their metabolism and produce more carbon dioxide. However, there is still a maximum temperature at which their metabolism becomes inefficient.

“In the longer term, over years, these prokaryote communities will evolve to be more efficient at higher temperatures, allowing them to further increase their metabolism and their carbon output.

Prokaryotes from all environments

The researchers compiled prokaryote responses to temperature changes from across the world and in all different conditions—from salty Antarctic lakes below 0°C to thermal pools above 120°C.

“Rising temperatures therefore cause a ‘double whammy’ effect on many prokaryote communities, allowing them to function more efficiently in both the short and long term, and creating an even larger contribution to global carbon and resulting temperatures.”

They found that prokaryotes that usually operate in a medium temperature range—below 45°C—show a strong response to changing temperature, increasing their respiration in both the short term (days to weeks) and long term (months to years).

Prokaryotes that operate in higher temperature ranges—above 45°C—did not show such a response, but since they operate at such high temperatures to begin with, they are unlikely to be impacted by climate change.

The short-term responses of medium-temperature prokaryotes to warming were larger than those reported for eukaryotes—organisms with more complex cells, including all plants, fungi and animals.

Departing from the ‘global average’

The team built a mathematical model that predicted how these respiration rate changes would affect the carbon output of prokaryote communities. This revealed that short- and long-term changes to respiration rate would combine to create a larger-than-expected rise in carbon output, which is currently unaccounted for in ecosystem and climate models.

Lead author of the new research, Ph.D. student Thomas Smith from the Department of Life Sciences, said: “Most climate models assume that all organisms’ respiration rates respond to temperature in the same way, but our study shows that bacteria and archaea are likely to depart from the ‘global average’.

“Given that these micro-organisms are likely to be significant contributors to total respiration and carbon output in many ecosystems, it’s important for climate models to take into account their higher sensitivity to temperature change at both short and long timescales.

“Importantly for future climate predictions, we would also like to know how the numbers of prokaryotes, and their abundance within local ecosystems, might change with increasing temperatures.”

This study only reinforces urgency to get our carbon polluting civilization to make a quick about face towards renewables. We could add bacteria to the long list of tipping point factors, which are delved into great detail here by yours truly:


Should I see any more articles on microorganisms and climate change I will include links on future posts.

Here is more climate and weather news from Thursday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article.)

And here are some more chilly “ET” reports from the last North American Arctic outbreak:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton- “The Climate Guy”

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