New research published in the international journal “Science Advances” has brought hope to the planet, suggesting that plants may be able to absorb more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously expected. However, environmental scientists behind the research emphasize that this should not lead governments to slow down on their obligations to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
Dr. Jurgen Knauer, who led the research team at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University, found that a well-established climate model predicts stronger and more sustained carbon absorption by plants until the end of the 21st century when accounting for critical physiological processes that govern photosynthesis. These processes include efficiency of carbon dioxide movement through leaves, how plants adapt to temperature changes and distribute nutrients in their canopy, which are often ignored in global models but have a significant impact on a plant’s ability to fix carbon.
The study focused on the process of photosynthesis, whereby plants convert CO2 into sugars and serve as natural climate change mitigators. While there may be some beneficial effect of climate change on carbon uptake by vegetation, it is still unclear how vegetation will respond in the future to CO2, temperature and precipitation changes.
In their scientific modeling study, researchers evaluated how carbon uptake by vegetation would respond globally under a high-emissions scenario over the course of this century. They discovered that more complex models incorporating plant physiological processes consistently projected stronger increases in carbon uptake by vegetation globally. The effects of these physiological processes were reinforced by each other resulting in even stronger effects when taken into account together.