Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nature Knows What to Do with Carbon Dioxide

Two articles caught my eye recently, and both have to do with carbon levels in the atmosphere. Forgive me if this seems a little redundant, but I must say again that carbon is the basic building block of life on earth. Many plants and animals depend on atmospheric carbon for their survival. Today's article features two champions of this sequestration: Boreal Forests and Phytoplankton.
The first is an article from Nature describing the effects of humans on the ability of a boreal forests to sequester carbon. Scientists have known for many years that plants gather carbon from the atmosphere and combine it with nitrogen to make plant tissues. What they didn't know was how nitrogen levels effect the ability of plants to gather that carbon. This information is key to understanding human effects on the forest through nitrogen runoff from nearby farms and human activity. What they found was that our inadvertent fertilizing increase the ability of plants to absorb atmospheric carbon.
"Through our forests, fertilization by nitrogen deposition is to some degree offsetting our carbon dioxide emissions - at least right now," said Beverly Law, Professor of Forest Science at Oregon State University, co-author of the study and director of the AmeriFlux monitoring network.
The second article is about the phytoplankton Phaeocystis globosa. It appears this tiny marvel is able to change from a single celled organism to a colony and vice-versa in response to pressure from predators. When encountering predators such as the shrimp-like copepods that can eat colonies, the Phaeocystis take on the single cell, free-swimming form. When predators of the single celled forms are detected, the Phaeocystis form into colonies. They do this through chemical detection. This information is quite valuable to science in that these Phaeocystis absorb enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon, and when eaten by larger animals, that carbon sinks to the bottom of the ocean in the from of fecal matter. That means if scientists can induce more colonial forms of the organism, more carbon can be sequestered.
Nature knows what to do with Carbon Dioxide, and it's just a matter of time before we figure it out for ourselves.
for Boreal Forest Article in TerraDaily
for the article on Phytoplankton at ScienceDaily


  1. Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you for your blog...not only for sharing the information but also your passion and commitment. We here on the other coast are far behind your Pacific-lapped place on the planet when it comes to understanding and working with 'natural forces'.

    Keep up the good work.

    David de Smit

  2. Jennifer, unfortunately, there are often side-effects in trying to speed up natural processes, especially over a short timeframe. The best way to re-establish a balance in the carbon cycle is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we create. Introducing more nitrogen into the ecosystem could come back to haunt us. For one perspective, see Vaclav Smil’s 1997 paper Global Population and the Nitrogen Cycle. Iron is a key limiter to plankton growth and some people have suggested seeding the oceans with iron. To me, this sounds like taking one drug to counteract the side effects of another drug, (repeat as often as necessary).