Leclerc is a professor and Karipot an assistant research scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Both work in the UGA Laboratory for Environmental Physics on the CAES campus in Griffin, Ga.
"Our lab has done a lot of research into improving methods of evaluating the amount of carbon sequestered in plant canopies," Leclerc said. "The (U.S.) Department of Energy is very interested in this type of research because climate change is such a big concern."
Greenhouse gases absorb and hold some of the heat radiating from the earth causing the air temperature to rise. In a nutshell, that's the "greenhouse effect" involved in global warming.
Plants take in carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. They use the carbon in the CO2 molecules as building blocks in their growth. Over countless years, vast amounts of plant residues form coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Burning these fuels releases CO2 back into the air.
But how much carbon does the burning release into the air? And how much do plants take out, and how fast do they do it? Pinpointing answers to these questions will help scientists know how many trees, crops and other plants are needed to take out the carbon all that fuel-burning is putting into the air.
Leclerc said scientists are studying many aspects of climate change worldwide. But they still don't know enough for their measurement tools to be truly accurate. "As a nation, we need to know how much carbon is taken up by different ecosystems," she said, "and then pull this information together at a continental level."