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Open-Air Experiment Shows High CO2 Boosts Tree Growth

e found no difference in the chemistry of the leaf litter at the treated versus the untreated sites, at least during the experiment's first year.

Interpreting those conflicting results, Schlesinger suggested that the nitrogen deficiencies contributing to slower future growth might be showing themselves in the underground root systems of trees rather than in their leaves. Tree growth is considered a potentially important reducer of atmospheric CO2 -- and thus an antidote to global warming -- because plants take in carbon dioxide through the photosynthetic process, break down the gas, and store its carbon in their tissues, meanwhile releasing oxygen.

Schlesinger noted that current forecasts for carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion around 2050 is about 15 billion metric tons a year. "The enhanced growth seen in this forest, if applied globally, would take up about 20 percent of that fossil fuel release," he estimated.

"There are a lot of reasons why that 20 percent number is pushing the envelope," he cautioned. "It assumes that there will be a lot of forests around then, that humans haven't cut them all down. And it assumes that they will all grow as fast as loblolly pines, which are one of the fastest growing species on Earth.

"That should be very discouraging to those who would expect plants to solve the carbon dioxide problem for us," he said.


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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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