Thousand-year-old tropical soils unearthed by accelerating deforestation and agricultural land use could be unleashing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a new study by National Science Foundation-funded researchers. In an investigation of 19 sites in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, scientists discovered that heavily deforested areas leach organic carbon that is significantly older and more biodegradable than the organic carbon leached from densely forested regions. Released from deeper soil horizons and leached by rain into waterways, the older, chemically unstable organic carbon is eventually consumed by stream-dwelling microbes, which devour the rich compounds and respire carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. It's a process that could jeopardize local ecosystems and further fuel the greenhouse effect, the researchers said.
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