What happens to climate change models when plant retain less carbon than researchers thought

lupinesby BioCON Experiment/NSF Cedar Creek LTER Site

Big Clue to Future Climate Change in Small Plants
[Via NSF News]


Yarrow, it’s called, this flowering plant also known as “little feather” for the shape of its leaves. Prized as a garden plant that repels unwanted insects while attracting beneficial ones, it also improves soil quality and is used in many herbal medicines.

Now yarrow–and 12 other grassland species, including Indian grass, thimbleweed and wild lupine–may have a larger role, scientists have found: as players in Earth’s changing climate.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities conducted an 11-year experiment with 13 plant species common in U.S. Midwestern states.


Their results – the amount of carbon that these plants hold on to is less than what has ben used in many climate models, meaning that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will rise faster. The more we burn the more ends up in the atmosphere and the less than expected is taken up by plants.

“What this all boils down to,” says Reich, “is that the world could warm even faster than we thought.”

This is a long term experiment:

The researchers measured gas exchange rates of the 13 grassland species over 11 years using free-air CO2 enrichment at 180 parts per million, or ppm, above ambient CO2 levels. Their work is part of the BioCON experiment in Minnesota.

But now they have really long term, detailed  data on the carbon cycle when carbon dioxide is at higher levels than today. What they found was that higher carbon dioxide did not stimulate photosynthesis by 25%, a value used in come climate change models.

Photosynthesis only went up 10%. This could have a huge effect on the models, since they would all then underpredict the increase in carbon dioxide levels and in global temperatures.

I’m glad the NSF exists – who else would have supported this work  for 11 years?


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