Joe Carrara, a biology Ph.D. candidate at West Virginia University, has found a way to improve climate change predictions using Appalachian forests.
To do this, Carrara studied the impact of increased levels of acid rain — caused when pollution mixes with atmospheric water — on forest ecosystems at the Fernow Experimental Forest in Parsons, W.Va. Due to its long history of coal-fired power plants, West Virginia has experienced some of the highest rates of acid rain in the United States.
Carrara found that increased acid rain causes decreased decomposition of carbon in the soil, which ultimately affects the rate that carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere.
“Any small change in the rate at which carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere from soil can have huge impacts on atmospheric carbon levels, and ultimately the temperature of the Earth,”Carrara wrote in an email.
Carrara states that if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase, the temperature of the Earth also increases.
Increased carbon dioxide is also an issue for lakes and rivers. A study published in January showed a link between high concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere and the rapid acidification of freshwater lakes. — By Hannah Gillespie