The Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide has remained remarkably stable over the past 24 million years. And scientists believe they have now solved part of the mystery as to why this has been the case, despite changing geological conditions.
They believe that ancient tree roots in the mountains may play an important role in controlling long-term global temperatures acting as a type of natural 'thermostat'.
Researchers from Oxford and Sheffield Universities discovered that temperatures affect the thickness of the leaf litter and organic soil layers, as well as the rate at which the tree roots grow.
In a warmer world, this means that tree roots are more likely to grow into the mineral layer of the soil, breaking down rock which will eventually combine with carbon dioxide. This process, called weathering, draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and cools the planet.
The theory suggests that mountainous ecosystems have acted like the Earth's thermostat, addressing the risk of 'catastrophic' overheating or cooling over millions of years.
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