A new study has delivered some rare, good news about the planet. The study shows that Earth's plants may be able to absorb more atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activities than previously predicted.
Plants take up a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, which can slow down the effects of climate change on Earth. Now, an encouraging new study, led by researchers from Trinity College Dublin, found that a climate model, which is used to feed into global climate predictions made by the likes of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, predicts stronger and sustained carbon uptake until the end of this century. This is after considering the impact of some crucial physiological processes that govern how plants conduct photosynthesis, the university’s statement explains.
The researchers accounted for aspects including how efficiently carbon dioxide can move through the interior of the leaf, how plants adjust to changes in temperatures, and how plants most economically distribute nutrients in their canopy. “These are three really important mechanisms that affect a plant's ability to 'fix' carbon, yet they are commonly ignored in most global models,” lead author Jürgen Knauer said in the statement. The study was published in the Science Advances journal recently.
The process where plants convert carbon dioxide into the sugars that they use for growth and metabolism is known as photosynthesis. This mechanism is a natural climate change mitigator that reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The increased absorption of carbon dioxide by plants is an important factor for increasing land carbon sink recorded over the past decades, the statement explained.
However, it’s unclear how changes in carbon dioxide levels, temperature and rainfall will affect vegetation and their ability to take up carbon dioxide. In this scenario, this study brings in a ray of hope.
In the study, the researchers examined a high-emission climate scenario to test how vegetation carbon uptake would respond to global climate change until the end of the 21st century. In the statement, study author Silvia Caldararu said that people could be underestimating climate change effects on vegetation as well as its resilience to changes in climate. “We often think about climate models as being all about physics, but biology plays a huge role and it is something that we really need to account for,” Caldarau added.
The researchers said that these predictions impact nature-based solutions to climate change such as reforestation and afforestation and show to what extent such initiatives work. The findings suggest these approaches could have a bigger impact in mitigating climate change and over a longer time than previously thought.
"However, simply planting trees will not solve all our problems. We absolutely need to cut down emissions from all sectors. Trees alone cannot offer humanity a get out of jail free card," Caldararu warned in the statement.