TUCSON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Microbes released from melting permafrost may be one of the most significant factors in accelerating climate change.
A newly discovered microbe appears to be releasing massive amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as permafrost succumbs to rising global temperatures.
Scientists from the United States, Australia and Sweden discovered the microbe in the permafrost soils of northern Sweden early this year. The microbe, currently named Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, had not been previously identified, and scientists discovered it releases huge amount of methane from melting permafrost.
Methane only makes up about nine percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but it can hold up to 21 times more heat in its molecules than carbon dioxide can.
"If you think of the African savanna as an analogy, you could say that both lions and elephants produce carbon dioxide, but they eat different things," said senior author Scott Saleska, an associate professor in the UA's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the UA's new Ecosystem Genomics Institute. "In Methanoflorens, we discovered the microbial equivalent of an elephant, an organism that plays an enormously important role in what happens to the whole ecosystem."
The scientists say having a better understanding of how much greenhouse gas comes from these kinds of microbes will help with climate change predictions and modeling.