Scientists Test Crop Growth in Climate Forecast for 2050

Environmental News Network
July 11, 2001

Researchers at the University of Illinois in Champaign are raising soybeans in the kind of atmospheric conditions forecast for the year 2050.

By 2050, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are expected to be about 1.5 times greater than the current 370 parts per million, while daytime ozone levels during the growing season could peak on average at 80 parts per billion—now 60 parts per billion.

Most scientists agree that the levels of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere are rising due to the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. Since the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased from approximately 290 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to greater than 370 ppmv today.

One unknown effect of this concentration is how well food crops will grow in a CO2-rich atmosphere. The conversion of sunlight through the green pigment chlorophyll in plants uses carbon dioxide and water and releases oxygen.

Portions of 40 acres (16 hectares) of University of Illinois farmland this summer are sprouting soybeans grown in the presence of higher CO2 levels.

Next summer, elevated levels of ozone will join the mix in an experiment called SoyFACE that is the first of its kind.

Global Food Security

"When you consider the importance of the Midwest in terms of global food security, it is important to do this research here," said Stephen Long, a photosynthesis professor of plant biology at the University of Illinois.

"Up to now, experiments related to global warming on many crops have been done in locations on the periphery of major food production areas," he pointed out.

SoyFACE (Free Air Gas Concentration Enrichment) is the first test of crop growth in the presence of both increased carbon dioxide and ozone.

Researchers want to know how soybeans may be affected, and what scientists might do to assure the integrity of yields and quality as the climate changes, the university said in a statement July 2.

Five University of Illinois departments, the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Illinois State Water Survey, as well as researchers from four other nations and two other U.S. universities are participating this summer.

Continued on Next Page >>


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