A recent study published in the journal “Science Advances” has provided a surprisingly optimistic view of the planet. The research suggests that plants could absorb more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously expected. While this news is positive, environmental scientists caution that it should not be seen as a reason for governments to slow down their commitments to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
Dr Jürgen Knauer, who led the research team at the Hawkesbury Institute of the Environment at the University of Western Sydney, explains that the study found that a well-established climate model predicts stronger and more sustained carbon uptake by plants by the end of the 21st century when critical physiological processes that govern photosynthesis are taken into account. These processes include how efficiently carbon dioxide moves through leaves, how plants adapt to changes in temperature, and how they distribute nutrients throughout their canopy. These mechanisms are often overlooked in global models but have a significant impact on a plant’s ability to fix carbon.
The study focused on the process of photosynthesis, which plants use to convert CO2 into sugars, serving as a natural mitigation of climate change. However, although the beneficial effect of climate change on carbon uptake by vegetation may not last forever, it is still unclear how vegetation will respond to changes in CO2, temperature and precipitation in the future.
In their scientific modeling study, the researchers estimated how carbon uptake by vegetation would respond to global climate change under a high-emissions scenario. They found that more complex models that include plant physiological processes consistently project stronger increases in carbon uptake by vegetation globally. The effects of these physiological processes reinforce each other, resulting in even stronger effects when considered together as they would happen in real-world conditions.