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Carbon dioxide fertilization is neither boon nor bust

response diminish over time? Can increased carbon assimilation by the global forest prevent the continued increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration?

The long life and large size of trees make direct assessment of forest responses to carbon dioxide enrichment difficult. FACE and other similar research, however, allow for multi-year studies of forest stands and enable researchers to get a peek at the future with respect to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

In every year since the FACE project began, net primary productivity, which is the total amount of carbon dioxide fixed into organic matter such as leaves, stems and roots, has been higher in plots given extra carbon dioxide. The average increase has been 24 percent, and there is no indication that the increase will not continue. But, Norby notes, while his colleagues have observed a sustained increase in leaf photosynthesis, the response to carbon dioxide fertilization would not be apparent if only above-ground growth were measured. Wood production increased significantly during only the first year of treatment.

While Norby and colleagues have learned a great deal about above-ground allocation of carbon dioxide, in recent years they have focused their efforts on impacts on fine roots and soil sequestration of carbon dioxide. Fine root production has increased substantially in response to elevated carbon dioxide.

Fine roots are important for water and nutrient uptake, but they have a short life and their carbon returns to the soil within a year. Initial results suggest that the increase in carbon supply to fine roots has increased the carbon content of the soil. Norby cautions, however, that the positive effect of carbon dioxide fertilization is insufficient to halt the rising level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.


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Contact: Ron Walli
865-576-0226
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
15-Feb-2004


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