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Trees Can Up Their Game In CO2 Fight

New research has found that mature oak trees can increase their rate of photosynthesis to absorb higher quantities of carbon dioxide.

Early results from a 10 year study found that old oak forests can help to curb rising CO2 levels by increasing the amount that they absorb. While increased CO2 absorption cannot extinguish all of the issues related to carbon emissions, the research will help guide climate policy in regard to the use of forests as carbon sinks.

The results emerged from a giant outdoor experiment, led by the University of Birmingham, in which an old oak forest in Staffordshire, England, is bathed in elevated levels of CO2. In fact, 37 percent more CO2 than is currently in the atmosphere.

This latest study adds to the field that looks at the use forests as effective carbon sinks, and potentially gives climate researchers a new tool in the fight against climate change.

Over the first three years of a ten-year project, the 175-year-old oaks clearly responded to the CO2 by consistently increasing their rate of photosynthesis. Researchers are now measuring leaves, wood, roots, and soil to find out where the extra carbon captured ends up and for how long it stays locked up in the forest.

Birmingham researcher Anna Gardner, who carried out the measurements, said, “I’m really excited to contribute the first published science results... an experiment of global importance. It was hard work conducting measurements at the top of a 25 metre oak day after day, but it was the only way to be sure how much extra the trees were photosynthesising.”

One of the lead researchers said that of the Britain's prime minister's "top four climate targets – coal, cars, cash, and trees – trees are, perhaps surprisingly, the least well-understood as a climate control lever. Our work adds to the small body of results from laboratories-in-the-forest that are essential to guide climate policy.”


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