Scientists Test Crop Growth in Climate Forecast for 2050

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FACE research projects are being conducted in many places across the United States and around the world. In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a sweetgum plantation is being grown in a CO2-rich environment, while in Rhinelander, Wisconsin an aspen forest is getting the CO2 treatment. Swiss scientists are testing grasslands and a bog in high CO2 concentrations, while in Brazil a tropical rain forest is being fed a CO2-rich diet.

In Champaign, Illinois, four control and four experimental 70-foot-diameter (21-meter) rings now surround 24 varieties of soybeans. The experimental rings have vertical plastic pipes that deliver at crop level a precisely regulated flow of carbon dioxide, based on wind speed and direction, pumped from a 50-ton solar powered tank.

Next summer, soybeans will grow on an adjacent 40 acres (16 hectares) dotted with 24 of the octagon shaped rings. Four rings will pump carbon dioxide, four will provide just ozone, and four will provide ozone and carbon dioxide.

Natural conditions will exist in an equal number of control rings for each test.

Next summer, eight more rings, including four experimental rings delivering CO2, will be placed among corn on the same 40 acres (16 hectares) being used this year for soybeans.

50 Percent Loss in Yield

Soybeans are sensitive to ozone. In August 1999, for instance, ozone levels in central Illinois exceeded the crop threshold for damage on 28 days. Greenhouse experiments suggest a 50 percent loss in crop yield under constant 2050 levels.

But under elevated CO2 levels, greenhouse work has shown increases in yields.

This SoyFACE experiment, Long said, will provide insight as to what happens in real field conditions.

Studies earlier this year by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service (ARS) found that cropland and grassland in the United States could potentially store enough carbon to offset up to 14 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted from vehicle tailpipes and industrial smokestacks in this country.

The first national estimate of how much carbon these lands are storing and how much more they could store was developed by Marlen Eve, an ARS soil scientist in Fort Collins, Colorado. Eve and colleagues developed the actual storage estimate for use in international climate change agreement discussions: 20 million tons of carbon a year.

If crops of the future utilize more CO2 than plants of today, that carbon storage estimate could rise.

Copyright 2001 Environmental News Network

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