Ecology - Relation To The Environment - Physical Environments - Biogeochemistry and Climate

Biogeochemistry and Climate

Main article: Biogeochemistry See also: Nutrient cycle and Climate

Ecologists study and measure nutrient budgets to understand how these materials are regulated, flow, and recycled through the environment. This research has led to an understanding that there is global feedback between ecosystems and the physical parameters of this planet, including minerals, soil, pH, ions, water and atmospheric gases. Six major elements (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus; H, C, N, O, S, and P) form the constitution of all biological macromolecules and feed into the Earth's geochemical processes. From the smallest scale of biology, the combined effect of billions upon billions of ecological processes amplify and ultimately regulate the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth. Understanding the relations and cycles mediated between these elements and their ecological pathways has significant bearing toward understanding global biogeochemistry.

The ecology of global carbon budgets gives one example of the linkage between biodiversity and biogeochemistry. It is estimated that the Earth's oceans hold 40,000 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon, that vegetation and soil hold 2070 Gt, and that fossil fuel emissions are 6.3 Gt carbon per year. There have been major restructurings in these global carbon budgets during the Earth's history, regulated to a large extent by the ecology of the land. For example, through the early-mid Eocene volcanic outgassing, the oxidation of methane stored in wetlands, and seafloor gases increased atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) concentrations to levels as high as 3500 ppm.

In the Oligocene, from 25 to 32 million years ago, there was another significant restructuring of the global carbon cycle as grasses evolved C4 photosynthesis and expanded their ranges. This new photosynthetic pathway evolved in response to the drop in atmospheric CO2 concentrations below 550 ppm. The relative abundance and distribution of biodiversity alters the dynamics between organisms and their environment such that ecosystems can be both cause and effect in relation to climate change. Human-driven modifications to the planet's ecosystems (e.g., disturbance, biodiversity loss, agriculture) contributes to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Transformation of the global carbon cycle in the next century is projected to raise planetary temperatures, lead to more extreme fluctuations in weather, alter species distributions, and increase extinction rates. The effect of global warming is already being registered in melting glaciers, melting mountain ice caps, and rising sea levels. Consequently, species distributions are changing along waterfronts and in continental areas where migration patterns and breeding grounds are tracking the prevailing shifts in climate. Large sections of permafrost are also melting to create a new mosaic of flooded areas having increased rates of soil decomposition activity that raises methane (CH4) emissions. There is concern over increases in atmospheric methane in the context of the global carbon cycle, because methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more effective at absorbing long-wave radiation than CO2 on a 100-year time scale. Hence, there is a relationship between global warming, decomposition and respiration in soils and wetlands producing significant climate feedbacks and globally altered biogeochemical cycles.

Read more about this topic:  Ecology, Relation To The Environment, Physical Environments

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Famous quotes containing the word climate:

    The question of place and climate is most closely related to the question of nutrition. Nobody is free to live everywhere; and whoever has to solve great problems that challenge all his strength actually has a very restricted choice in this matter. The influence of climate on our metabolism, its retardation, its acceleration, goes so far that a mistaken choice of place and climate can not only estrange a man from his task but can actually keep it from him: he never gets to see it.
    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)