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climate change

Underground reserves of CO2

Aquifers underlying deserts like the Atacama, pictured above, may be retaining carbon

Luca Galuzzi / Aquifers underlying deserts like the Atacama, pictured above, may be retaining carbonLuca Galuzzi /

The aquifers that form in the subterranean depths of deserts around the world may be stockpiling more carbon dioxide (CO2) than half of all the plants on Earth, according to researchers from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, in the United States.  According to present knowledge, 40% of all the CO2 produced by humans by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests remains suspended in the atmosphere, and about 30% goes into the oceans.  For a long time, scientists believed that the remaining 30% were absorbed by forests.  Now they think that plants might not be sequestering all that leftover CO2.  New research suggests that some of that carbon has been seeping into desert aquifers, a possibility not previously considered.  By examining the water flux of a desert in China, researchers verified that CO2 suspended in the atmosphere was being absorbed by plants, released into the soil and transported into underground aquifers, where it was trapped and could not escape back into the atmosphere (Geophysical Research Letters, July 28, 2015).  They believe that these aquifers have been absorbing 14 times more CO2 than once thought, every year.  According to the researchers, knowing the locations of subterranean reservoirs – which cover an area the size of North America – could help improve the climate models currently used to estimate the effects of climate change, as well as calculations of the Earth’s total carbon supply.