Earth's soil currently absorbs and stores more carbon than it emits, but that could soon change, according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The planet's top layer could become a significant CO2 contributor in coming decades if current trends in modern land use continue unabated.
The only way to maintain soil's role as a carbon sink would be to convert more land into grass or forest. That's unlikely to happen, scientists say. Every year, more land is cleared and plowed to house and feed the world's growing population.
Researchers populated soil carbon models with land use data and climate change predictions. Their simulations suggest a dramatic loss of soil carbon by the end of the century.