From: Harriet Jarlett, Planet Earth Online
Published February 16, 2014 08:02 AM

How mountain trees help regulate climate

A new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, shows that if global temperatures were to rise over geologic timescales, trees at higher elevations could play an important role in encouraging more carbon dioxide to be removed from the atmosphere.

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The team, from the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford, conducted their research in the Peruvian mountains, where they found that in higher, colder conditions tree root growth slows. This means the roots don't reach far enough into the ground to cause the rocks beneath them to break down and combine with carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere - a process called weathering.

But if global temperatures were to rise, then the layer of organic material between the root and the rocks would rot more quickly and so get thinner, allowing the roots to reach the rock and begin the weathering process.

'If the world gets warmer, as it would during a large volcanic event, decomposition of the organic layer would accelerate, and the organic layer would become thinner,' explains Dr Chris Doughty of the University of Oxford, lead researcher on the project. 'Instead of growing into the organic layer, as they do now, tree roots would grow into the area near the rock, breaking it down to release calcium and magnesium ions which would combine with carbon dioxide — effectively pulling the CO2 out of the air.'

Trees and mountains image via Shutterstock.

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