Nutrients Limit Carbon Uptake to Slow Climate Change


Nitrogen and phosphorus found in soils are limiting the amount of carbon uptake stored in plants and soils, but maps of where this occurs across the globe are lacking.

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientist and international collaborators have developed a framework for testing nutrient limitations and a benchmark of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) limitation for models to be used for predictions of the terrestrial carbon sink. The research is published in the Feb. 10 edition of Nature Geoscience.

CO2 emissions from human activities play a double effect. On one hand, CO2 causes global warming and on the other, CO2 can stimulate photosynthesis. The increase in photosynthesis can increase plant growth, creating a feedback that can help absorb some of the CO2 in the atmosphere and slow global warming.

However, plants also need the right amounts of nutrients for growth, namely nitrogen and phosphorus, not just CO2. Understanding the limiting role of nutrients in the capacity of plants to help slow climate change is a priority to accurately model and predict climate change.

Elevated atmospheric CO2 and warming-induced longer growing seasons are likely resulting in greater nutrient limitation of terrestrial ecosystems.


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