Carbon emissions contribute to making the Earth greener, new research suggests

The Earth is getting greener, and it could be due to our carbon footprints. New reports suggest that our planet has seen an increase in its levels of plant cover in certain areas across the globe in recent years, and that this could be an indirect result of the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a by-product of human activity.

Recent scientific research has shown that over the past decades, the Earth has seen an increase in its overall amount of plant and vegetation cover, but are as yet unsure of the exact cause. A number of interacting factors may be involved, and many scientists are of the opinion that this increase in plant cover is partly due to the “CO2 fertilisation effect“, of in other words, the carbon dioxide generated by human activity, which stimulates photosynthesis, and causes a beneficial greening of the Earth’s surface.

To determine how much of this increased lushness is due to changing CO2 levels, Randall Donohue, of Australia’s national research institute, monitored vegetation levels at the edges of various desert areas across the globe, including in North Africa and central Asia. The monitored regions were chosen specifically for their high levels of sunlight and warmth, whilst receiving just enough rainfall to allow vegetation to grow. Donohue hypothesised that should the volume of plant cover increase, it could only be attributed to increased rainfall levels or an increase in CO2 levels.

Donohue’s research revealed an 11 per cent rise in the amount of vegetation per rainfall unit in the monitored areas between 1982 and 2010, which correlates roughly with rising global CO2 levels across this period. These findings cast into doubt climate change researchers’ predictions that desert areas will get drier and expand as global warming levels rise.

Donohue also suggests that these increased levels of plant cover may prove beneficial to the climate as well, for example, increased plant cover will result in higher rainfall levels, which in turn affects river flows and reduces the likelihood of wildfires. As yet, however, Donohue is unable to predict to what extent CO2 fertilisation will affect vegetation in the coming decades.

Nor does it seem that the CO2 fertilisation effect will have an impact in all desert areas. Researchers at the University of Moscow recently published data from a 10-year long research project in which a greenhouse was set up in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, USA. Speaking of the experiment results, Beth Newingham (a member of the research team), said that the team found “no sustained increase in biomass,” despite extra CO2 being pumped into the greenhouse. “You cannot assume that all these deserts respond the same” said Newingham. “Enough water needs to be present for the plants to respond at all.”

Sources include the New Scientist

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