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Blog

Could the Earth be breathing?

gaiablog.jpg
gaiablog.jpg

By James Dacey

Ever since green issues crossed over to the mainstream in the 1980s, James Lovelock’s Gaia metaphor has always felt a little bit passé. Now it may be allowed to flourish once again in the 21st century as a bunch of environmental scientists report that the rocky Earth is “breathing”.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced in the soil get trapped in crevices, before being exhaled as temperatures drop, say the researchers at universities in Israel and the US.

During the summer they expect at least 8 hours of “breathing” each day and in winter up to 20 hour’s worth.

Apparently this convection is taking place in cracks right across the earth’s surface but climate modellers have so far failed to spot it.

Historically, gas exchange models consider diffusion alone, but factoring in “geo-respiration” could increase vapour flux by 50 %

Particularly cracked parts of the earth’s face, where this effect is most pronounced, include permafrost zones, agricultural settings and desert playas.

I contacted Maria Dragila, one of the researchers at Oregon State University and she told me:

“Our next step is to encourage the scientific community to consider this mechanism and quantify the effectiveness of this breathing in different environments by direct field
measurements.”

Full details of this research can be found in Geophysical Research Letters.

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