EarthLabs > Climate and the Carbon Cycle: Unit Overview > Lab 5: Soil and The Carbon Cycle

Lab 5: Soil and The Carbon Cycle


Do you ever think about the soil under your feet when you walk to school? Did you know that a teaspoon of rich soil can contain over 5000 different species and strains of bacteria? Perhaps your family or school has a compost pile and you already know the importance of soil microbes in creating rich, dark soil. Farmers certainly know the importance of good, rich soil in growing healthy, robust crops.

Soil seems fairly simple to understand yet soil is one of the most complicated reservoirs of the carbon cycle. Soil and soil microbes are very important to scientists who study the carbon cycle and climate change. This is because soils store a lot of carbon! As a matter of fact, more carbon is stored in the world's soils than is currently present in the atmosphere. Scientists agree that there are many unknowns about how soil and soil microbes might respond to regional climate change and how any resulting changes might impact global climate change. For this reason, research is on-going in many areas of the world.

In Part A of this lab, you will explore the relationship between soil and the carbon cycle by focusing on soil carbon storage and the role of microbes in decomposition and soil respiration. Then, you will design and carry out an experiment to determine how temperature affects the rate of soil respiration. Finally, you will investigate what ranchers are doing to create carbon-rich healthy soil, a process that has the potential to mitigate climate change. In Part B, you will learn about soil respiration dynamics in permafrost, a frozen soil with the potential to further unbalance the carbon cycle if it thaws.

By the end of this investigation, you should be able to:

Keeping Track of What You Learn

Throughout these labs, you will find three kinds of questions. Your teacher will let you know which answers you should record and turn in.

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