Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

New Research Finds Plants Will Feast on Increased CO2, But Only Until 2100

Science
New Research Finds Plants Will Feast on Increased CO2, But Only Until 2100
Pexels

Scientists studying plants' ability to gobble up carbon from the atmosphere have found that plants will offer protection from greenhouse gases for another 80 years. Beyond 2100, they are not sure if carbon levels will become so high that that plants will reach a breaking point where they can no longer remove carbon from the air, as Newsweek reported.


The researchers note that the vital role trees play in absorbing carbon means preserving forests should be a global priority. The study by a Stanford-led team of scientists and published in the journal Nature Climate Change sought to predict whether or not trees will be able to absorb greenhouse gasses in the future at their current rate.

Right now, plants act a lot like the title character in Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. Trees are endlessly generous as they filter our air and slow the climate crisis by absorbing about a quarter of the greenhouse gasses emitted due to human activity. They purify our water, nurture our soil and cool us down. Yet, like the character in the children's book, there ability to give is limited. And, as we start to overfeed them with carbon dioxide and deprive them of a balanced diet with nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil, their ability to help us will decline, as the study authors wrote in Scientific American.

The researchers analyzed 138 existing studies on grassland, land used for crops, shrubland and forests with levels of elevated carbon dioxide. They covered a broad range of experiments from growing plants in special chambers to fumigating forests with carbon dioxide. The scientists also weighed the symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi, and data on soil nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which trees rely on to turn carbon dioxide into food, as Newsweek reported.

Increased atmospheric CO2 levels should increase the biomass of plants by 12 percent in the next 80 years. That is to say, they will fatten up. Yet, if nitrogen and phosphorous levels do not rise at a commensurate level, plants will be overwhelmed and sick from too much carbon — much like a person eating too much sugar instead of a balanced diet. The uncertainty around how much additional CO2 trees will be able to take up in the future makes it difficult for the scientists to predict future global warming patterns, as Earth.com reported.

"If plants can't take up additional nitrogen and phosphorus through their roots to balance their diet, they aren't able to use as much of the extra CO2," wrote the study authors in Scientific American.

"We were pleased to find that forests appear likely to grow even faster in the future as a result of CO2 fertilization," said Rob Jackson, professor in Earth System Science at Stanford and one of the study's authors, to Newsweek

However, Jackson added that the amount of carbon dioxide used by trees isn't enough to halt climate change. "They aren't, and won't be, a substitute for the first order of business — cutting fossil fuel emissions," he said.

"Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the best way to limit further warming," said study lead author César Terrer, a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, in a university press release. "But stopping deforestation and preserving forests so they can grow more is our next-best solution."

Radiation-contaminated water tanks and damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Feb. 25, 2016 in Okuma, Japan. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Japan will release radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the government announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, aka the doomsday glacier, is seen here in 2014. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Journalists film a protest by the environmental organization BUND at the Datteln coal-fired power plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on April 23, 2020. Bernd Thissen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Airborne microplastics are turning up in remote regions of the world, including the remote Altai mountains in Siberia. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS / Getty Images

Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.

Read More Show Less
A laborer works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province, China on Oct. 7, 2010. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

By Michel Penke

More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.

Read More Show Less