Nav: Home

Plants could remove six years of carbon dioxide emissions -- if we protect them

August 20, 2019

By analysing 138 experiments, researchers have mapped the potential of today's plants and trees to store extra carbon by the end of the century.

The results show trees and plants could remove six years of current emissions by 2100, but only if no further deforestation occurs.

The study, led by Stanford University and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and including Imperial College London researchers, is published in Nature Climate Change.

As plants grow they take in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. As CO2 concentrations in the air rise due to human-caused emissions, researchers have suggested that plants will be able to grow larger, and therefore take in more CO2.

However, plant growth is not only due to CO2 concentrations, but relies on the availability of nutrients in the soil, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. If the plants can't get enough nutrients, they will not grow more despite higher CO2 concentrations.

Hundreds of experiments over the past few decades have tried to determine how much extra CO2 plants can take in before the availability of nutrients becomes limiting, but many have come up with different answers.

Now, a group of 32 scientists from 13 countries have analysed all the previous experiments to come up with a global estimate of plants' ability to take in CO2.

Their results show that globally plants can increase their biomass (organic material) by 12 percent when exposed to concentrations of CO2 predicted for the year 2100.

This extra growth would draw enough CO2 from the atmosphere to cancel out six years of current human-induced emissions.

However, the result is based on plant and forest cover remaining at current levels - so no further deforestation occurs.

Lead author Dr César Terrer, now at Stanford University's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, initiated the project while at Imperial College London. He said: "Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the best way to limit further warming. But stopping deforestation and preserving forests so they can grow more is our next-best solution."

Several individual experiments, such as fumigating forests with elevated levels of carbon dioxide and growing plants in gas-filled chambers, have provided critical data but no definitive answer globally.

To more accurately predict the capacity of trees and plants to sequester CO2 in the future, the researchers synthesized data from all elevated carbon dioxide experiments conducted so far, in grassland, shrubland, cropland and forest systems.

Using statistical methods, machine-learning, models and satellite data, they quantified how much soil nutrients and climate factors limit the ability of plants and trees to absorb extra CO2.

They found that tropical forests had the greatest capacity for growth and increased CO2 uptake, such as those in the Amazon, Congo and Indonesia.

Dr Terrer said: "We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, which are the largest reservoirs of biomass in the planet. We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming."

The study also shows how plants' and trees' ability to absorb extra CO2 relies on their association with different fungi in their roots, which help them get extra soil nutrients.

The results of the study will be valuable to scientists building models of future climate change and the impact of reforestation or deforestation.
-end-


Imperial College London

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.