Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Accelerated global warming from nutrient shortages for trees and soils


"We should not count on carbon storage by land ecosystems to make a massive contribution to slowing climate change," said Dr. Christopher Field, director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution. "And lower storage of carbon in these ecosystems results in a faster increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, leading to more rapid global warming."

Future atmospheric levels of the notorious heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, remain a controversial topic among environmental scientists. Many researchers believe that increasing amounts of CO2, belched into the atmosphere by human fossil fuel use, will be captured through nature’s ability to lock up the carbon in soil organic matter and faster growing trees. But it’s not so simple. A new report, published in the November 28 Science, shows that the availability of nitrogen, in forms usable by plants, will probably be too low for large increases in carbon storage.

Ecosystems on land can store carbon, through bigger trees and more organic matter in soils, but shortages of mineral nutrients, especially nitrogen, curb potential future carbon storage. Several approaches to calculating ecosystem carbon storage, including some featured in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assume that nitrogen available to plants is abundant, even though current nitrogen limitation is widespread. "Realistic scenarios for future changes in nitrogen availability limit ecosystem carbon storage to the low end of the range presented in the recent IPCC report," says Field.

"In a garden limited by water, a gardener would not expect a big increase in growth from adding potassium. Similarly, plants in natural ecosystems limited by nitrogen may not grow much faster when they are exposed to increased levels of carbon dioxide," explained co-author Jeffrey Dukes. "Plants will need more nitrogen if they’re going to lock up more carbon. The models used by the IPCC just didn’t acknowledge that to a sufficient extent." Human activities tend to add biologically available nitrogen to ecosystems, but the additions are patchy in space and the added nitrogen can be rapidly lost. According to Field, "Even with generous assumptions about future increases in biologically available nitrogen, we still couldn’t find enough nitrogen to support the range of carbon storage discussed in the IPCC report."

These new findings highlight the challenge of limiting global warming. Dukes concludes, "Our study suggests that we’ve been counting too much on the natural ecosystems to bail us out of our carbon emissions problem. The natural systems can help, but there are limits to their response. We have to make sure these limits are incorporated into our models."

Authors on this study were Bruce Hungate, Merriam-Powell Center for Environment Research, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff; Jeffrey Dukes, M. Rebecca Shaw and Christopher Field, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution, Stanford, CA, and Yiqi Luo, Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Oklahoma, Norman. This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington ( has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments in the U.S.: Plant Biology and Global Ecology in Stanford, CA.; The Observatories in Pasadena, CA, and Chile; Embryology, in Baltimore, MD.; and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, DC.

Dr. Christopher Field | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>