Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deep-rooted plants have much greater impact on climate than experts thought

12.01.2006


Trees, particularly those with deep roots, contribute to the Earth’s climate much more than scientists thought, according to a new study by biologists and climatologists from the University of California, Berkeley.



While scientists studying global climate change recognize the importance of vegetation in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in local cooling through transpiration, they have assumed a simple model of plants sucking water out of the soil and spewing water vapor into the atmosphere.

The new study in the Amazonian forest shows that trees use water in a much more complex way: The tap roots transfer rainwater from the surface to reservoirs deep underground and redistribute water upwards after the rains to keep the top layers moist, thereby accentuating both carbon uptake and localized atmospheric cooling during dry periods.


The researchers estimate this effect increases photosynthesis and the evaporation of water from plants, called transpiration, by 40 percent in the dry season, when photosynthesis otherwise would be limited.

"This shifting of water by roots has a physiological effect on the plants, letting them pull more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they conduct more photosynthesis," said co-author Todd Dawson, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. "Because this has not been considered until now, people have likely underestimated the amount of carbon taken up by the Amazon and underestimated the impact of Amazonian deforestation on climate."

As the largest forested area on the planet, the Amazon plays a major role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus impacts the climate globally, according to lead author Jung-Eun Lee, a former UC Berkeley graduate student and now a post-doctoral fellow here.

Dawson, Lee and their colleagues, including Inez Fung of UC Berkeley, reported their findings last month in the Dec. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Fung is director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, co-director of the new Berkeley Institute of the Environment, and professor of earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy and management.

The researchers incorporated these new details into the most widely accepted model of global climate, and found that it accounts for a previously observed but unexplained dip in Amazonian temperature during the dry season.

"Evapotranspiration stays higher than previously expected during the prolonged dry season because of this private reserve of water banked during the wet season by the tap roots," said Dawson. "Just as perspiration cools us off, increased transpiration by trees in June and July explains the drop in temperature in the Amazon."

This effect changes the way the atmosphere heats and cools, and will change the way rain is distributed, he noted. Depending on the extent to which trees elsewhere in the world, especially in Africa and other tropical and extratropical areas, redistribute water in the soil, the impact on global climate could be significant.

"The impact on transpiration is greatest in the Amazon and Congo forests, but our model also shows an impact in the United States and other places that have dry and wet periods," Lee said.

Trees have long been known to lift water from the soil to great heights using a principle called hydraulic lift, with energy supplied by evaporation of water from leaf openings called stomata. Twenty years ago, however, some small plants were found to do more than lift water from the soil to the leaves - they also lifted deep water with their tap root and deposited it in shallow soil for use at a later time, and reversed the process during the rainy season to push water into storage deep underground. Dawson discovered in 1990 that trees do this, too, and to date, so-called hydraulic redistribution has been found in some 60 separate deeply rooted plant species.

Earlier this year, Dawson’s colleague and former UC Berkeley doctoral student Rafael Oliveira of the Laboratório de Ecologia Isotópica at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, discovered that Amazonian trees also use hydraulic redistribution to maintain the moisture around their shallow roots during the long dry season. During the wet season, these plants can store as much as 10 percent of the annual precipitation as deep as 13 meters (43 feet) underground, to be tapped during the dry months.

"These trees are using their root system to redistribute water into different soil compartments," Dawson said. "This allows the trees and the forest to sustain water use throughout the dry season."

The process is a passive one, he noted, driven by chemical potential gradients, with tree roots acting like pipes to allow water to shift around much faster than it could otherwise percolate through the soil. In many plants that exhibit hydraulic redistribution, the tap roots are like the part of an iceberg below water. In some cases these roots can reach down more than 100 times the height of the plant above ground. Such deep roots make sense if their purpose is to redistribute water during the dry season for use by the plant’s shallow roots, though Dawson suspects that the real reason for keeping the surface soil moist is to make it easier for the plant to take in nutrients.

"Hydraulic redistribution is definitely related to water, but it can’t really be discussed outside the context of plant nutrition," he said.

Dawson, Lee and Fung set out to incorporate hydraulic distribution in the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Atmospheric Model Version 2 (NCAR’s CAM2 model), one of the most respected models.

"Global climate models don’t do a very good job of capturing plant effects on how climate might behave," Lee said.

Lee accounted both for daily and seasonal dryness in the Amazon, and showed that the two together have a large impact on the climate over the region. The increased moisture in the soil created by hydraulic redistribution during the dry season allows the plant to carry on photosynthesis at a higher rate, leading to greater carbon uptake. This also leads to greater evaporation from the leaves of water, which takes heat with it. Thus, the summer dry-season temperatures are cooler than would be expected.

"When Jung-Eun incorporated this into the global climate model, we were better able to explain our observations and may be able to even predict future climate behavior," Dawson said.

Because these plants store water in the rainy season for use in the dry season, decreased precipitation during the wet season, as occurred in recent El Nino years, would be expected to lead to decreased photosynthesis during the following dry season, according to the researchers.

"There’s this skin on the Earth - plants - that has an effect on a global scale, pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and letting water go, in a dynamic way that has climatic implications," Dawson said.

Dawson and Fung plan to continue their collaboration to improve the way that plants are represented in global climate models.

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Biocompatible 3-D tracking system has potential to improve robot-assisted surgery

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Real-time MRI analysis powered by supercomputers

17.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Antibiotic effective against drug-resistant bacteria in pediatric skin infections

17.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>