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Global Warming May Reduce Carbon Sink Capacity In Northern Forests

ScienceDaily – January 3, 2008

The prediction of what will happen as carbon dioxide increases in our atmosphere is based on many complicated assumptions. One of those assumptions is that the northern forests will continue to capture (or sink) CO2 in the same manner as before. We now have evidence that increasing temperatures reduces this sinking process meaning the models may be flawed and CO2 will accumulate at a faster rate.

According to the study, the warmth of spring and autumn play a significant role in the amount of carbon that is released and captured. In the spring, the fast growth of the forests sinks a great deal of carbon, this is accelerated with the warmer climate. However, the warmer autumn means that the decomposition rates stay higher during a time when the greenery is not growing quickly and thus is a net source of carbon.

What the study does not apparently discuss is the result of this change of balance on the forest itself.  If the decomposition of organic matter is increasing, then the very chemical balance of the ground will change. This will likely cause a new mix of plant life to grow in the forests which will change this balance again (for the positive or the negative).

No single reaction occurs in nature. Nearly all things happen in series and changes propagate more changes. It is this chain reaction that causes so many well intention things to go haywire and is the basis of chaotic systems. The full extent of the “butterfly effect” of this change is not truly known with our current understanding of nature.

Net carbon uptake of northern ecosystems is decreasing in response to autumnal warming according to findings recently published January 3rd, in the journal Nature. The carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems is particularly sensitive to climatic changes in autumn and spring. Over the past two decades autumn temperatures in northern latitudes have risen by about 1.1 C with spring temperatures up by 0.8 C.


Lead author of the study, Dr. Shilong Piao from the LSCE, UMR CEA-CNRS,in France says “If warming in autumn occurs at a faster rate than in spring, the ability of northern ecosystems to sequester carbon will diminish in the future”.


… The potentially rapid decline in the future ability of northern terrestrial ecosystems to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide would make stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations much harder than currently predicted.

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