Hide and Seek With Facts About Global Warming!

Many of you may have read the Reuters story linked on Drudge yesterday about carbon missing from the soil in England and Wales. I tracked down the Nature article the Reuters story is based off and found a few interesting omissions.

The Reuters article fails to mention that there are several questions left unanswered by the study, like this: "But others say the carbon change is due to changes in land use and precipitation patterns, which may not be linked to climate change."

Or this: "Others argue that the study made certain assumptions that might not hold water. The team measured only the top 15 centimetres of the soil, where the majority of carbon changes occur, notes Lenton. But their extrapolation to the top 30 centimetres may make the results misleading, he says.

Or this: "And the study did not keep a detailed history of land use in each site, with data on the amount of fertilization or whether animals grazed the land, for example."

Why did the Reuters story leave out these points? The Reuters story draws conclusions without any of the qualifiers the researchers themselves emphasize. It would appear there is a bias towards one set of data.

Personally I think the study is interesting, but I am disturbed about certain conclusions the researchers make — and by extension Reuters. Here are my beefs:

  1. The researchers make this statement, "its ultimate cause is climate change." But almost in the same breath they say, "The team says its next step will be to look in detail at sites where land use has not changed, to pin down whether climate change is to blame for the carbon loss or not."  So is climate change the culprit or not? And if you don’t know, why are you making policy suggestions and drawing conclusions without any firm data?
  2. By their own admission they do not know where the carbon has gone, they are assuming it has all gone into the air. This is perhaps a reasonable assumption — but an assumption nevertheless. This study begs the question, if it is happening in England, could it be happening elsewhere? In fairness the researchers ask the same question. But, if it is happening in more places  — and if all this carbon is really making its way into the air — how come I haven’t heard about any studies finding more carbon in the air than can be accounted for? Perhaps this study exists (please let new know if you find it) but I doubt it, otherwise I am sure the researchers in England or the Max Planck Institute would have linked the two together.
  3. "Losses occurred everywhere, irrespective of land use."  Interesting point, and here is their suggestion, "the researchers encourage policy-makers to think about conversion of some areas of farmland to forest as a means of stemming carbon loss from soils." We have to assume that there is less carbon loss in forested areas than cultivated, the article doesn’t say. But ultimately their suggestion fall flat because "the study did not keep a detailed history of land use in each site"

So what we have here is a reporter picking which facts to report and researchers jumping to conclusions and suggesting courses of action based on unproven hypotheses. Unfortunately, this is par for the course in the debate over global warming.  

I have one final question to ask the researchers — has anyone else missed the carbon in the soil?