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Greenhouse gas might green up the desert

Rehovot, Israel May 8, 2003 Missing: around 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas charged with global warming. Every year, industry releases about 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And every year, when scientists measure the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it doesnt add up about half goes missing. Figuring in the amount that could be soaked up by oceans, some 7 billion tons still remain unaccounted for. Now, a study conducted at the edge of Israels Negev Desert has come up with what might be a piece of the puzzle.

A group of scientists headed by Prof. Dan Yakir of the Weizmann Institutes Environmental Sciences and Energy Department found that the Yatir forest, planted at the edge of the Negev Desert 35 years ago, is expanding at an unexpected rate. The findings, published in the current issue of Global Change Biology, suggest that forests in other parts of the globe could also be expanding into arid lands, absorbing carbon dioxide in the process.

The Negev research station is the most arid site in a worldwide network (FluxNet) established by scientists to investigate carbon dioxide absorption by plants.

The Weizmann team found, to its surprise, that the Yatir forest is a substantial sink (CO2-absorbing site): its absorbing efficiency is similar to that of many of its counterparts in more fertile lands. These results were unexpected since forests in dry regions are considered to develop very slowly, if at all, and thus are not expected to soak up much carbon dioxide (the more rapidly the forest develops the more carbon dioxide it needs, since carbon dioxide drives the production of sugars). However, the Yatir forest is growing at a relatively quick pace, and is even expanding further into the desert.

Why would a forest grow so well on arid land, countering all expectations (It wouldnt have even been planted there had scientists been consulted, says Yakir)? The answer, the
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Contact: Alex Smith
Alex_smith@margeotes.com
212-460-0563
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
8-May-2003


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