Carbon sinks still absorbing – reason to cheer?

Science News has released some news for all those concerned with climate change and global warming.

It has appeared that, far from having reached their maximum capacity, the Earth’s ecosystems still soak up carbon. The new study even shows new calculations which suggest that total carbon sinks have increased roughly in line with rising emissions.

Forests and oceans are important carbon sinks, with forests sucking down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and oceans taking it up proportionally as levels rise in the air.

Pieter Tans presented his brand-new findings on May 15th at the annual conference on global monitoring hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. Tans went as far as saying: “The sinks have been more than able to keep up with emissions,”co2.gif

Less carbon dioxide has remained in the atmosphere, relative to the amount of fossil fuel emissions, today compared to 50 years ago,” Tans concluded. Land-use and other factors have been degraded as measurably influencing this trend.

But let’s be clear this report doesn’t say that CO2 isn’t causing problems, or that CO2 isn’t rising, because it empirically is. But apparently it does not rise as fast as it should under previous assumptions. What hasn’t been clarified within this study is where these sinks exactly are. Whether re-growing forests or oceans are taking up significantly more carbon than previously expected is not clear  yet.tree.gif

Another important point is that it could be expected that  global temperature increase would increase the rate of forest growth and the rate of carbon sequestration, pretty much like fast-growing vegetables in a green-house.   But this is only temporary and eventually this carbon will be released again. To really benefit from this increased absorption, we would need to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Then this sequestration would be helpful through releasing the carbon back on a more gradual basis over a period of a few hundred years.

Reefs are already being killed by alarming rates of carbon absorbed by our oceans.

So there really is no reason to get complacent just because carbon is still being absorbed.

The situation is bad enough,” Ralph Keeling, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego says, “even with the sinks hanging in there.


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