Centre for Ecology & Hydrology scientists formed part of a team which published a new study this week showing forests may not be able to slow down global warming as effectively as previously thought due to rising Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels.
Levels of CO2 – the chief greenhouse gas from human activities - have been steadily rising since the industrial revolution, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels.
The research published on 9th September 2005 in the leading journal Science was carried out by a team of UK-based scientists from the Lancaster Environment Centre, home to scientists from both Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the University of York.
Dr Helaina Black and Helen Grant from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s research site in Lancaster helped to co-ordinate the large experiment which was carried out in Lancaster University's prominent "Field of Solardomes" that used to overlook the M6 motorway.
The researchers planted over 500 young trees of six species in twelve of the solardomes, and measured the amount of carbon that the trees were removing from the atmosphere and transferring to the soil over two years. The domes were filled with air at one of four different CO2 levels corresponding to current CO2 levels (around 380 parts per million) and other three groups at around 480, 580 and 680 parts per million. These are the CO2 concentrations expected to be reached at different points within the next 100 years.
Although a significant quantity of new carbon was retained in the soil beneath all trees, the team discovered that with increasing CO2 concentration less new carbon was retained in the soil – the converse of what was expected. The experiment showed that this may not be the case, because at increased CO2 concentrations more of the extra carbon transferred to the soil by the tree roots was simply released back into the atmosphere through the respiration of soil micro-organisms.