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Mountains of sugar found in the seabed, Crucial to storing carbon: experts

Mountains of sugar found in the seabed, Crucial to storing carbon: experts

Scientists have uncovered a large amount of sugar under the seagrass meadows in the oceans. Experts at Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology think it is equivalent to the sugar in 32 billion cans of coca-cola. There are 39 grams of sugar in a 350 ml Coca-Cola can.

Seagrass meadows are known to be one of the most efficient systems of capturing carbon and keeping the temperature of the planet as it is. According to the institute, one square kilo­metre of seagrass stores al­most twice as much car­bon as forests on land. They also capture carbon 35 times faster than the forests on land.

Experts were inspecting the soil around the meadows when they found the massive sugar content. Head of the group Manuel Liebeke said it is about 80 times higher than previously measured in marine environments. "We estimate that world­wide there are between 0.6 and 1.3 mil­lion tons of sugar, mainly in the form of sucrose, in the seagrass rhizo­sphere".

The anatomy of seagrass clearly plays a role in the sugar content found in its rhizosphere (the zone of influence generated by root growth and activity).

Seagrass meadows are one of the most endangered habitats on the planet due to global warming. According to experts, up to a third of the world's seagrass is already lost. This has a direct impact on how carbon emissions are affecting the world.

Until now, it was believed seagrass plays an important role in capturing carbon. But new research suggests there is more to it.

Liebke added that the large amounts of sucrose stored underneath live seagrasses will also influence carbon emissions. The institute's calculation shows that if the sugar stored in the seagrass rhizosphere was degraded by microbes, at least 1.54 million tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere.

This is approximately equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 330,000 cars in a year.

The role of marine ecosystems in controlling carbon emissions and keeping the temperature of the planet suitable for life is not a new discovery. Around two years ago, research by the same institute found sugar in brown algae turns them into good carbon stores. A long-chained sugar makes up algal mass. The carbon dioxide fixed by brown algae remains much longer in the sea because it takes highly specialised bacteria and over a hundred enzymes to break down dead algae.

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