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Tags Current Affairs

CO2 makes trees live fast and die young

Date: 11 September 2020 Tags: Climate Change

Issue

Trees that grow quickly die younger, risking a release of carbon dioxide that challenges forecasts that forests will continue to be a "sink" for planet-warming emissions.
 

Background

Many trees worldwide are already dying more quickly as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels and temperatures. This means that existing forests will store less carbon than we thought, worsening climate change.
 

Details

  • Tree cover absorbs a significant proportion of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels and plays a crucial role in projections for our ability to wrestle down CO2 levels.

  • Researchers said current climate models expect forests to continue to act as a carbon sink through this century, with high temperatures and concentrations of CO2 thought to stimulate tree growth and so help them absorb more carbon as they mature quicker.

  • The researchers examined more than 200,000 tree-ring records from tree species across the globe and found that trade-offs between growth and life spans occurred in almost all of them, including tropical trees.

  • But these CO2 uptake rates are likely to be on the wane as slow-growing and persistent trees are supplanted by fast-growing but vulnerable trees.

  • The researchers said the findings suggest that the chances of dying increase dramatically as trees reach their maximum potential size.

  • Fast-growing trees invest less in defenses against diseases or insect attacks, or are more vulnerable to drought.  

  • Earth's average surface temperature has risen just over one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, enough to boost the severity of droughts, heatwaves and superstorms made more destructive by rising seas.

  • This suggests the idea that "fossil-fuel based emissions can be 'offset' by planting trees or avoiding deforestation.

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