I was preparing for Atmospheric Chemistry’s exam when this question popped up in my mind. So, first of all, I hope you all know about our beloved Carbon Cycle. You should also know that carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas and recently its concentration in atmosphere has increased to 400ppm mainly due to human activities.
So, now comes the question how carbon cycle acts as a thermostat for our Earth? It does so mainly by positive and negative feedback mechanisms. In positive feedback, the processes that are occurring in nature are enhanced (for example, upon increase in temperature these mechanisms support warming), while in negative feedback mechanisms, the processes are opposed (for example, upon increase in temperature these mechanisms support cooling). Maybe this figure will explain them better than I can!!
Now let’s observe how climate change affects carbon cycle and its feedback mechanisms.
- Terrestrial Environment
In some areas where temperature increases due to climate change, there will be an increase in respiration by plants and this will reduce carbon storage in plants, releasing more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (positive feedback). Though, in other areas where decrease in temperature occurs, the period of photosynthesis will increase as respiration will be slow, thus carbon will be stored from atmosphere (negative feedback). More carbon dioxide concentrations also support higher rate of photosynthesis.
Similarly, soil stores more carbon at colder temperature and high precipitation as rate of decomposition is reduced.
This table clearly represents how various factors effect feedback mechanisms.
2. Ocean Feedbacks
CO2 is far more soluble in colder water than in warmer water, thus warmer sea surface temperatures will affect the oceans’ ability to dissolve CO2 and their carbon chemistry. A warmer ocean might cause dissolved organic carbon to decompose faster and convert to CO2, reducing the amount of atmospheric CO2 that can be absorbed by the oceans (a positive feedback). Warming might also cause a decrease in the extent of sea ice, which could increase plankton and other marine growth in high-latitude regions. This would result in a greater uptake of atmospheric CO2, thereby acting as a negative feedback (Read more here).
Evidence exists that the relationship between climate change and carbon cycle will be very important in the future for determining emissions and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.