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Rising carbon dioxide is making the Earth GREENER: Extra plant growth caused by greenhouse gases could cover the USA twice

Published: April 30, 2016
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Source: Daily Mail

  • Scientists used satellite data over the past 33 years to measure leaf cover 
  • Planet has got greener as plants have flourished in rising carbon dioxide
  • Additional plant growth is equivalent to covering the US twice in greenery
  • Rising carbon dioxide is responsible for 70 per cent of the extra greening 

The pumping of excessive carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has widely been presented as setting our planet on a path towards disaster.

But a new study has revealed rising levels of the greenhouse gas due to humanity's actions is actually having a surprising side-effect – it is making the Earth greener.

Satellite data gathered over 33 years has shown there has been a 'persistent and widespread increase' in the growing season of plants.

The Earth is getting greener with rising carbon dioxide levels, researchers have revealed. They found over the past 33 years, leaf cover around more than half of the vegetated area of the world has increased. They say the extra greenery is equivalent to covering the USA twice with plants

The Earth is getting greener with rising carbon dioxide levels, researchers have revealed. They found over the past 33 years, leaf cover around more than half of the vegetated area of the world has increased. They say the extra greenery is equivalent to covering the USA twice with plants

Scientists say up to half of the world's vegetated areas are now showing signs of increased leaf cover, with the majority caused by extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They added that the extra greening that has occurred in the past 33 years is equivalent to adding a green continent twice the size of mainland USA - around 6.95 million square miles.

HOW PLANTS USE CARBON DIOXIDE TO HELP THEM GROW 

Professor Ranga Myneni, an earth scientist at Boston University who led the study, told MailOnline, however, this effect is unlikely to continue for ever.

He said while the additional plant growth was helping to soak up some of extra carbon being emitted into the atmosphere by human activity, it may start slowing down.

He said: 'Currently, about a quarter of the 10 billion tons of carbon that we emit in to the air each year, are being stored in the body of trees and in the soils.

'We do not know how long this will continue. This storage we do know is temporary. 

'Experiments have shown that the CO2 fertilisation effect is temporary.

'The plants ultimately adjust to the higher levels of CO2 in the air.'

The researchers used data from the Nasa-Modis and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration AVHRR satellite sensors from the past 33 years.

They used this to construct computer models to mimic the plant growth observed in the satellite data.

Around 85 per cent of the ice-free land on the Earth's surface is covered by vegetation. The area of all greenery on the Earth is equal to around 32 per cent of the entire surface of the Earth.

The scientists found much of the extra greening due to rising carbon dioxide levels is occurring around the tropics where large expanses of tropical rainforest (pictured) can be found

The scientists found much of the extra greening due to rising carbon dioxide levels is occurring around the tropics where large expanses of tropical rainforest (pictured) can be found

The researchers used satellite data to study how leaf cover has changed around the world over the past 33 years. They found many areas have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of leaf cover (illustrated above)

The researchers used satellite data to study how leaf cover has changed around the world over the past 33 years. They found many areas have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of leaf cover (illustrated above)

Dr Zaichun Zhu, a researcher at Peking University who also took part in the study, said: 'The greening over the past 33 years reported in this study is equivalent to adding a green continent about two-times the size of mainland USA and has the ability to fundamentally change the cycling of water and carbon in the climate system.'

HOW CO2 IS MAKING EARTH GREEN 

Humans are thought to be emitting around 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. 

Plants use carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthesis process to produce sugars by combining the gas with water using energy from sunlight.

These sugars form much of the structures in plants and ultimately provide a valuable food source to animals.

The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Nature Climate Change, say their findings are consistent with other studies that show how elevated carbon dioxide can increase plant growth.

They found that carbon dioxide fertilisation, as the effect is known, is responsible for 70 per cent of the observed greening trend.

They said nine per cent of the increased greening was due to extra nitrogen in the soil and eight per cent was due to climate change.

Four per cent of the greening was due to land cover change.

The impacts of increased carbon dioxide was most prevalent over the tropics, where many of the large expanse of rainforest can be found.

Climate change was responsible for additional greening mainly in higher latitudes where ice is melting and on the Tibetan Plateau.

However, they found the relationship between rising carbon dioxide levels and the increase in greening is complex rather than a simple correlation.

The researchers said there had been an increase in the growing season in various parts of the world, with up to 50 per cent of the vegetated area of the Earth's surface benefiting from increased carbon dioxide (illustrated)

The researchers said there had been an increase in the growing season in various parts of the world, with up to 50 per cent of the vegetated area of the Earth's surface benefiting from increased carbon dioxide (illustrated)

The results are likely to be seized upon by climate change sceptics who claim increasing carbon dioxide levels will not cause the levels of global warming predicted by many scientists.

However, the researchers behind the new study said the impact of plants in reducing global warming in recent years by moping up carbon dioxide may now start to decrease.

Dr Philippe Ciais, another co-author of the study and associate director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmantl Sciences at Gif-suv-Yvette in France, said: 'The fallacy of the contrarian argument is two-fold.

'First, the many negative aspects of climate change, namely global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice, more severe tropical storms, etc are not acknowledged.

'Second, studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising CO2 concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time.'

 

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