Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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."

The wildfires that roared through Eastern Washington in September had a devastating impact on an extremely endangered species of rabbit.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A protestor in NYC holds up a sign that reads, "November Is Coming" on June 14, 2020 in reference to voting in the 2020 presidential election. Ira L. Black / Corbis / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard

What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Activists fight a peat fire in Siberia in September. ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP via Getty Images

The wildfires that ignited in the Arctic this year started earlier and emitted more carbon dioxide than ever before.

Read More Show Less
A metapopulation project in South Africa has almost doubled the population of cheetahs in less than nine years. Ken Blum / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Tony Carnie

South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.

Read More Show Less
A new super enzyme feeds on the type of plastic that water and soda bottles are made of, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). zoff-photo / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Scientists are on the brink of scaling up an enzyme that devours plastic. In the latest breakthrough, the enzyme degraded plastic bottles six times faster than previous research achieved, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch