Gassy Alaskan Microbes Are Warming Up the Planet

When most of us wake up, we don't turn to our loved ones or think about the day ahead. Nope, we let off some gas. Turns out microorganisms are just the same, only their gas might have a dramatic effect on global warming.

A team of researchers from Berkeley took chunks of permafrost soil from Alaska, and shipped them back to the lab to thaw them out in controlled conditions. As they woke up, the gassy little microorganisms trapped in the melting ice spewed out more methane than the contestants in a bean-eating competition.

After two days, though, some slower-to-wake organisms came round, and began to consume the methane that the others created. Tasty. But while the methane is only pumped out for a short period, the effect could still contribute to our climate woes. Because while the second wave of microbes chow down on the methane, they still produce CO2 as a by-product.

Problem is, this sets up a pretty vicious cycle. Because as the Arctic gets warmer because of climate change, those microbes churn out more CO2. That means more warming, more thawing and... more gas.

Sadly the team's results didn't confirm the theory that these same microbes might be pumping nitrous oxide – aka laughing gas - into the air. Shame, because even though it's a worse greenhouse gas than CO2 and methane, it might at least have made the process of global warming a hell of a lot more enjoyable. [New Scientist; Image: Shutterstock]