Inaccessible nutrients may limit ability of plants to slow climate change

Many scientists assume that the growing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will accelerate plant growth. However, a new study co-written by University of Montana researchers suggests much of this growth will be curtailed by limited soil nutrients.

The end result: By the end of the century, there may be more than an additional 10 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere, which would accelerate climate change…

Cory Cleveland and co-authors looked at 11 leading climate models to examine changes in nitrogen and phosphorous. They found that nitrogen limitation actually will reduce plant uptake of CO2 by 19 percent, while a combined nitrogen and phosphorous limitation will reduce plant uptake by 25 percent.

Most of the world’s leading climate models assume that plants will respond to increased atmospheric levels of CO2 by growing more and more, which is known as the CO2 fertilization effect. The more the plants grow, the more CO2 they absorb from the atmosphere, thereby slowing climate change…

Cleveland said most climate models so far have not included nutrients because such biogeochemical processes are difficult to simulate and vary greatly from one type of terrestrial ecosystem to another. The Community Earth System Model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, is one of the first to begin considering the role of soil nutrients in the models that are used for climate change projections…

“We found that instead of acting as a carbon sink and drawing down CO2, the terrestrial biosphere could become a net source of the greenhouse gas to the atmosphere by the end of the century, with soil microbes releasing more carbon than growing plants could absorb,” Cleveland said.

Uncertainties remain, however. One of the questions is how soil microbes – which free up nitrogen in the soil, but also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – will respond to warming temperatures. Similarly, scientists don’t know if plants will become more efficient at drawing up additional nutrients from the soil. If not, plants won’t be able to keep up with society’s CO2 emissions.

Symptomatic treatment is guaranteed to change only one side of the equation – if and when it works. Unless the continuing causes of anthropogenic climate change are dealt with the ever-expanding calculus of stupidity will still result in negative sums for our species.

We get screwed so corporate barons like the Koch Bros. can continue to optimize profits.

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