On election day, the U.S. was busy voting for a president…But on the same day, a paper published in Nature Communications Tuesday actually contained some of the better news about climate change that we’ve heard in a while. Granted, even that doesn’t make it very sunny — just a modest bit of evidence suggesting a slight, temporary reprieve in the rate at which we’re altering the planet.
Trevor Keenan of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues examined what is called the “terrestrial carbon sink”: How much trees, plants, and other aspects of global land surfaces are managing to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Every year, you see, humans pump many billion tons of the stuff into the atmosphere, but not all of it stays there to warm the planet. A very significant fraction ends up getting absorbed by the ocean. Another large fraction gets pulled in by land-based plants which use it for photosynthesis. And so on.
What the new study shows is that from 2002 to 2014, plants appear to have gone into overdrive, and started pulling more carbon dioxide out of the air than they had before. The result was that the rate at which carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere did not increase during this time period, although previously, it had grown considerably in concert with growing greenhouse gas emissions….
Kennan et al. Recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 due to enhanced terrestrial carbon uptake. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 13428 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms13428