Report: High Carbon Dioxide Boosts Duke Forest Growth By 25 Percent

.Y., three 100-foot diameter forest parcels, each ringed by 16 towers, are receiving 1 1/2 times the current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

The extra CO2 is being delivered round-the-clock by pipes and valves on the towers. Computer controls ensure that the right valves open on the right towers to keep the distribution constant within all parts of each plot, regardless of wind direction and speed.

The experiment is "fully replicated," meaning that it is being repeated at three locations. Three other identical tower ringed forest plots that receive no extra CO2 are serving as controls whose response can be compared to the three active sites.

Schlesinger is co-director of this Forest-Atmosphere Carbon Transfer and Storage (FACTS-1) experiment within part of the 7,700-acre university-owned Duke Forest research reserve, located several miles from the westernmost Duke campus. The other co-director is George Hendry, the Brookhaven researcher who devised the Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) delivery method.

In 1997, the first complete year of the replicated study, the overall growth rate of the dominant pine trees and underlying hardwoods, shrubs and vines increased 16 percent in the extra-CO2 plots when compared to the control plots, the authors reported in Science. In 1998, that increase swelled to 25 percent, an addition that to some degree reflected the inclusion of fine root growth that was not measured in 1997.

Both DeLucia and Schlesinger noted that those results occurred during two growing seasons that were affected by droughts.

"The growth rates declined in the control plots as a result of the drought," Schlesinger said, while the high-CO2 plots "were able to make up for the drought," he added. The Duke botanist speculated that plants growing at higher carbon dioxide levels may be able to better conserve water. Separate studies have shown that plant stomata, leaf pores t

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University Medical Center

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