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Experiment suggests limitations to carbon dioxide 'tree banking'

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- While 10 years of bathing North Carolina pine tree stands with extra carbon dioxide did allow the trees to grow more tissue, only those pines receiving the most water and nutrients were able to store significant amounts of carbon that could offset the effects of global warming, scientists told a national meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA).

These results from the decade-long Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment in a Duke University forest suggest that proposals to bank extra CO2 from human activities in such trees may depend on the vagaries of the weather and large scale forest fertilization efforts, said Ram Oren, the FACE project director.

"If water availability decreases to plants at the same time that carbon dioxide increases, then we might not have a net gain in carbon sequestration," said Oren, a professor of ecology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

"In order to actually have an effect on the atmospheric concentration of CO2, the results suggest a future need to fertilize vast areas," Oren added. "And the impact on water quality of fertilizing large areas will be intolerable to society. Water is already a scarce resource. "

In a presentation delivered on Tuesday, Aug. 7 by Heather McCarthy, Oren's former graduate student, eight scientists working at the FACE site reported on the daily administrations of 1 1/2 times today's CO2 levels and how it has changed carbon accumulations in plants growing there.

The Department of Energy-funded FACE site consists of four forest plots receiving extra CO2 from computer-controlled valves mounted on rings of towers, and four other matched plots receiving no extra gas.

Trees in the loblolly pine-dominated forest plots that were treated produced about 20 percent more biomass on average, the researchers found. But since the amounts of available water and nitrogen nutrients varied substantially
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
7-Aug-2007


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