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Duke Studies Show U.S. Central Plains Vulnerable To Global Warming

f carbon dioxide in the peat deposits over the short run.

Peatlands are marked by an ever-changing mosaic of collapsed regions called scars, in which the peat has thawed and abruptly released large amounts of carbon dioxide before reforming.

In attempting to understand how this mosaic will change as global temperatures rise, Camill studied the behavior of the peatlands along a north-to-south line from colder to warmer regions. The colder regions feature more or less permanent permafrost, while the warmer ones show considerable scarring.

Camill discovered that the local dynamics of peat collapse and reformation dominate over the north-to-south temperature gradient, said Clark.

"This finding means that, even though it gets warmer as you go north to south, the overall balance of carbon uptake and release in the scars, and the scars' re-growth, is not dominated by the regional climate, but by the local processes. These processes include the growth of trees in these scars, which encourage the re-growth of permafrost." Camill's finding has implications for global warming effects, said Clark.

"These findings say that as the climate warms, you would not get a step-wise retreat of peat lands. But you would begin to speed up this local process which, rather than a net release of carbon dioxide, might cause a transient uptake as these scars reform into peat. The transient dynamics on the decades to centuries scale could be very different than the equilibrium change after a thousand years of warmer global temperatures.

Because climate change may disproportionately affect trees during their vulnerable early stages as seedlings, graduate student Janneke and Clark reported to the ESA meeting studies of how climate changes might affect seed germination. These early studies hint that under global warming some tree species may suffer reduced germination and seedling growth, a process botanists call "recruitment."


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Contact: Monte Basgall
Monte@dukenews.duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University Medical Center
4-Aug-1998


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