Is global warming being accelerated in the Arctic?

The soils in the Arctic have banked more carbon over thousands of years than the carbon contained in all of the world’s vegetation and the earth’s atmosphere combined. Why is that important? The Arctic has been taking carbon out of our atmosphere and storing it away in the soil lockbox for tens of thousands of years, until now.

CSU Associate Professor Matthew Wallenstein and his research team are studying how soil carbon storage is likely to respond to rapid environmental change.

“The climate is changing rapidly in the Arctic,” said Wallenstein. “Warming is occurring twice as fast here as in the rest of the world. And the results are visible from space. The short growing season is getting longer, and the plants are getting bigger and greener. What you can’t see from space is that the microbes and other critters that live beneath the surface are waking up too. This “biotic awakening” sounds like a good thing, and it probably is if you are a microbe, but could be bad for us. That’s because these microbes could open this carbon lockbox, releasing some of that banked soil carbon back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. Because both of these are greenhouse gasses, that could further accelerate climate warming. There is some evidence that this is already happening. But there is a lot we don’t know, and we can’t really predict how this will play out in the future. That is why we are here.”

Wallenstein, with the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, and CSU Postdoctoral Scientist Megan Machmuller discuss the significance of their research in the video above.

For more information about Wallenstein’s work, visit his blog at