Plants have been playing their part in climate change fight, but now it’s our turn

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Plants have been helping out in our fight against climate change by sucking up more carbon dioxide, but now it’s our turn to act, a new study based on changes in global photosynthesis activity has said.

Researchers say that changes in photosynthesis activity across the globe could be a good indicator on how much carbon dioxide is being absorbed by plants. The global changes in photosynthesis activity reveals to us what our planet has been doing over the years and how it has responded through time.

While accurate levels of photosynthesis activity can be measured at leaf levels, scientists at Carnegie Institution for Science and colleagues came up with something new to infer global photosynthesis activity levels. The team used previous studies wherein it was mentioned that concentration of the atmospheric trace gas carbonyl sulfide can be used to infer the level of global photosynthesis. They constructed a history of its concentration using air trapped in Antarctic ice and snowpack for centuries, infrared spectra of the atmosphere taken by astronomers since the 1970s, and data from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration greenhouse gas sampling network, which began monitoring carbonyl sulfide in the late 1990s.

Results indicated that global photosynthesis was stable for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, but then grew rapidly throughout the 20th century. The recent increases in photosynthesis correlate with the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fossil fuel burning.

This effectively means that just like plants in actual glass greenhouses grow faster and more profusely when provided with elevated levels of CO2, plants in natural ecosystems would have grown faster as well because of increase in concentration of CO2 globally.

At the global scale, this effect could offer some stability to the climate system by countering increased human emissions of CO2, scientists say. While the natural mechanism of Earth to respond to climate change may be active as plants are pulling in more CO2, scientists of the latest study point out that nature alone can’t handle the current increase in CO2 levels and so now it’s up to us to figure out how to reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.