Open-Air Experiment Shows High CO2 Boosts Tree Growth

BALTIMORE, Md. -- The first year's results from a Duke University research facility that exposes open-air forests to high carbon dioxide levels suggest that Southeastern forest trees could grow up to 12 percent faster in the higher CO2 atmosphere expected by 2050 from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities.

However, the scientists who conducted the study said such high growth rates probably will not be sustained as the experiment continues. They emphasized that the results do not indicate that more lush plant growth would soak up much of the extra CO2 entering the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning.

The researchers reported in a presentation prepared for Thursday, Aug. 6 at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. The research team included scientists from the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, Duke, Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island and West Virginia University in Morgantown.

"In colloquial terms, if you've got plants that are starving for CO2, and all of a sudden they find themselves bathed in air richer in CO2 than they were getting before, they should have the greatest response right away," said William Schlesinger, co-director of the Forest-Atmosphere Carbon Transfer and Storage experiment (FACTS-1) now underway at Duke Forest, a research reserve outside Durham, N.C.

"We found a 12 percent growth increase in the whole forest in response to addition of CO2 during 1997," added Schlesinger, a professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and botany department, in an interview before the meeting. "I would not be at all surprised if the growth response is somewhat lower in '98. I certainly expect it's going to decline after a few years as the forest adjusts,"

At FACTS-1, three patches of loblolly pine-dominated woodlands are being enveloped around-the-clock by the CO2 equivalent of 21st century air delivered by computer controlled rings of towers.

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University Medical Center

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