A new study shows the world’s plants take extra 28 billion tons of carbon every year. For decades, scientists are trying to identify why the carbon dioxide that we are putting into the atmosphere has been doing with plants. It now reveals that the best answer is the place no plants can survive: the icy wastes of Antarctica.
As ice begins to form in Antarctica, it traps air bubbles. Now, for thousands of years, they have been preserving samples of the atmosphere. The chemical mix level in that now reveals the global growth of plants in that history.
“It’s the whole Earth — it’s every plant,” said J. Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced.
Assessing the ice, Dr. Campbell and his colleagues observed that in the past century, plants were growing at a faster rate than at any other time in the last 54,000 years. They report that plants are converting 31 percent more carbon dioxide into organic matter than the period of the Industrial Revolution.
This increase is owing to the carbon dioxide that humans are stashing into the atmosphere, which fertilizes the plants, Dr. Campbell said. The carbon in the extra plant growth results to nearly 28 billion tons each year. This means it is three times the carbon stored in the harvested crops across the planet every year.
More carbon dioxide may result in more growth. But climate models project plants will suffer as temperatures rise and there will be a shift in rainfall patterns. Despite surplus carbon dioxide, plant growth may fall worldwide, and will no longer help in buffering the impact of global warming.