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For a long time, it seemed one of our great hopes to curb the massive amounts of CO2 we put out into the atmosphere came from the idea that more plants might absorb our carbon excess. If an airline company, for instance, planted enough trees, they could offset the amount of emissions they put out in a year.
New research shows that this idea might not work: When temperatures are warmer than usual, as they have been the last few years, plants can actually become net carbon producers rather than carbon sinks.
Researchers from the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. tested this by placing roughly 3 square miles of grassland from Oklahoma in controlled chambers. One chamber mimicked life on the prairie as usual (including rain, wind, weather, and temperature), while the other experienced the same conditions but under slightly higher temperature. The warmer plot saw carbon dioxide uptake shortfalls of up to 30 percent.
“But plants have evolved to ‘know’ that when it gets dry they should curb their water loss, so they reduce the apertures of their stomata (pores) to conserve water, and that constrains the amount of CO2 they can take up (by photosynthesis).”
Since when did plants get smart? What a bunch of snobs, not solving our problems for us. But before you go kick a pine tree in retribution, researchers are quick to point out that they can’t know exactly what will happen, and certain plant ecosystems (like rainforests) might still serve as carbon sinks even after temperatures rise.
So what do you say plants? Be a pal and suck up some carbon for us. Pretty please? I’ll be your best friend.
— Ted Alvarez
Thanks to Jenn