Scientists have long been in the dark about the role of plants in taking up carbon dioxide. As we move forward with the effects of climate change, researchers are looking to predict the extent to which plants will continue to absorb the steadily increasing amounts of CO2 that we emit.
In order to do this, scientists have created a ‘sci-fi forest’ in Staffordshire, England. This industrial-scale experiment acts as an outdoor laboratory, encircling a group of trees with 25m high masts emitting high levels of carbon dioxide, therefore emulating the amount of CO2 that trees will be coping with by 2050.
At the moment it is believed that trees store anywhere from a quarter to a third of the carbon produced by the use of fossil fuels, therefore making the planet greener and protecting us from the rising temperatures that carbon dioxide would contribute to if in free circulation. But it is a highly debated question among scientists as to how long this will continue if CO2 levels keep increasing at an exponential rate. The lead scientist from the experiment Professor Rob Mackenzie of Birmingham University says, ‘We are confident that trees will continue to take in more CO2, though we are quite sure that there will be other things that will start to limit that. Rising temperatures will (also) change the ability of plants (to absorb CO2) – they are adapted to current temperatures.’
This experiment is the first of its kind in Europe, and will provide imperative evidence of the extent and capacity of land carbon sink from the mid-21st Century and beyond.
The experiment could also provide other interesting knowledge on the effect of climate change on trees; if, in order to adapt to increased levels of CO2, the trees reduce their pores, they may become more able to withstand the effects of drought.
Professor Mackenzie describes this one of a kind experiment as ‘a scientist’s dream…all my Christmases come at once’, and many others hope that it will prove the capacity of plants to soak up enough carbon to give us time to find alternative fuel solutions. However, Professor Ranga Myneni of Boston University says, ‘Personally, I would not buy the fertilization benefit for the price of global warming and all the impacts that this warming implies, including global warming, loss of sea ice, rise in sea level, severe storms and loss of biodiversity.’