Plants and soils could exacerbate climate change as global climate warms

Nov 13, 2012

Scientists from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and University of California, Berkeley have demonstrated that plants and soils could release large amounts of carbon dioxide as global climate warms. This finding contrasts with the expectation that plants and soils will absorb carbon dioxide and is important because that additional carbon release from land surface could be a potent positive feedback that exacerbates climate warming.

The study was published today in a Journal of Climate paper titled, "Carbon cycle uncertainty increases risks and mitigation challenges."

"We have been counting on plants and soils to soak up and store much of the carbon we're releasing when we burn fossil fuels," Paul Higgins, a study co-author and associate director of the AMS Policy Program, said. "However, our results suggest the opposite possibility. Plants and soils could react to warming by releasing additional carbon dioxide, increasing and leading to even more climate warming."

The research team used a computer model of Earth's land surface to examine how carbon storage might react to a warmer planet with higher concentrations. The experimental design helps quantify the possible range in future terrestrial .

Results indicated that the potential range of outcomes is vast and includes the possibility that plant and soil responses to human-caused warming could trigger a large additional release of carbon. If that outcome is realized, a given level of human emissions could result in much larger climate changes than scientists currently anticipate. It would also mean that greater reductions in could be required to ensure carbon dioxide concentrations remain at what might be considered safe levels for the .

These findings could pose additional challenges for climate change risk management. Recognizing such challenges will afford decision makers a greater chance of managing the risks of climate change more effectively.

Dr. Higgins works on climate change and its causes, consequences, and potential solutions. His scientific research examines the two-way interaction between the atmosphere and the land-surface, which helps quantify responses and feedbacks to climate change. Dr. Higgins's policy analysis helps characterize climate risks and identify potential solutions. He also works to inform policy makers, members of the media, and the general public about climate science and climate policy.

Dr. John Harte, the study's other co-author, is a professor of energy and resources and of environmental science, policy and management at University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include climate-ecosystem interactions, theoretical ecology and environmental policy.

Explore further: Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

More information: The full text is available at http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00089.1.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cutting carbon dioxide helps prevent drying

Mar 24, 2011

Recent climate modeling has shown that reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would give the Earth a wetter climate in the short term. New research from Carnegie Global Ecology scientists Long Cao ...

Stabilizing climate requires near-zero carbon emissions

Feb 15, 2008

Now that scientists have reached a consensus that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are the major cause of global warming, the next question is: How can we stop it" Can we just cut back on carbon, or do we need ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

14 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Howhot
5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2012
"However, our results suggest the opposite possibility. Plants and soils could react to warming by releasing additional carbon dioxide, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and leading to even more climate warming."

Its going to be another hot summer 2013.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.