End of 'free ride' on ecosystem CO2 absorption

00 parts per million in this century," he said. "This means that the current lack of interest by the U.S. in participating in the Kyoto accords is especially unfortunate." According to Jackson, the study offered a new approach to studying the ecological effects of increased CO2.

"The study is unique in enabling us to study the effects of CO2 concentrations ranging from those before the Industrial Revolution to those projected for the next century," said Jackson. "It is also unique in providing a continuous gradient of CO2 in the field, allowing us to examine nonlinear and threshold responses and limitations of the system. Nitrogen availability appears to be one such limitation on the ability of plants to absorb CO2."

The researchers chose a section of north Texas prairie as the site for their experimental apparatus, which began operation in May 1997. The apparatus consists of two 60-meter-long long plastic-covered chambers -- resembling giant segmented worms -- erected over the grassland. The chambers measured about a meter wide and a meter high.

In one chamber, the scientists expose the grasses to a smooth gradient of CO2 concentrations ranging, from the current 365 parts per million (ppm) level down to the 200 ppm present at the end of the last ice age. The scientists achieve this concentration gradient by blowing ambient air into one end of the chamber, and as the air flows the length of the chamber, CO2 uptake by the grasses reduces CO2 concentrations down to 200 ppm.

In the other chamber, the scientists pump into one end air enriched to a CO2 concentration of 550 ppm -- the expected level over the next century -- and the plants' CO2 absorption reduces this to 350 ppm at the opposite end. The chamber also includes controls to ensure that moisture and temperature levels match those outside.

"There have been few experiments, even in growth chambers, that could explore the effects of changes since before the Industrial Revolution, but

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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