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Declining snowpack cools off CO2 emissions from winter soils, says U. of Colorado study

A recent decrease in Rocky Mountain snowpack has slowed the release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gases from forest soils into the atmosphere during the dead of winter, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

Professor Russell Monson of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department said the lack of snow has decreased the winter insulation of the soils, cooling them and slowing the metabolism of microbes that release large amounts of CO2. But the discovery of what Monson called a "serendipitous effect" of reduced snowfall does little to bolster the overall environmental health picture of the West's mountain forests in recent years, he said.

"I view this as a small amount of good news in a large cloud of bad news," said Monson, chief author of a paper appearing in the Feb. 9 issue of Nature. "While winter CO2 emissions from forest soils have slowed, the lack of winter moisture is stressing the trees during the spring and summer and inhibiting the much larger amount of CO2 they absorb during their growing season," he said.

Co-authors on the study included David Lipson of San Diego State University, Sean Burns, Mark Williams and Steven Schmidt of CU-Boulder and Andrew Turnipseed and Anthony Delany of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The study was undertaken at the Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research site west of Boulder. The site is home to one of several dozen so-called AmeriFlux installations on the continent that measure CO2 activity. The Niwot Ridge AmeriFlux site features five towers studded with climate instruments that are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The researchers used the 100-foot-high towers -- which were erected at 10,000 feet in a forest of lodgepole pine, sub-alpine fir and Englemann spruce adjacent to CU-Boulder's Mountain Research Station -- to measure CO2, wate
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Contact: Russell Monson
russell.monson@colorado.edu
303-492-6319
University of Colorado at Boulder
8-Feb-2006


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