Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Could planting trees in the desert mitigate climate change?

A press release from the European Geosciences Union: As the world starts feeling the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and consequent global temperature rise, researchers are looking for a Plan B to mitigate climate change. A group of German scientists has now come up with an environmentally friendly method that they say could do just that. The technique, dubbed carbon farming, consists in planting trees in arid regions on a large scale to capture CO2. They publish their study today in Earth System Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

“Carbon farming addresses the root source of climate change: the emission of carbon dioxide by human activities,” says first-author Klaus Becker of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. “Nature does it better,” adds Becker’s colleague Volker Wulfmeyer, “if we understand and can make use of it in a sustainable manner.”

When it comes to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, the team shows that Jatropha curcas does it better. This small tree is very resistant to aridity so it can be planted in hot and dry land in soil unsuitable for food production. The plant does need water to grow though, so coastal areas where desalinated seawater can be made available are ideal.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time experts in irrigation, desalination, carbon sequestration, economics and atmospheric sciences have come together to analyse the feasibility of a large-scale plantation to capture carbon dioxide in a comprehensive manner. We did this by applying a series of computer models and using data from Jatropha curcas plantations in Egypt, India and Madagascar,” says Wulfmeyer.

...“From our point of view, afforestation as a geoengineering option for carbon sequestration is the most efficient and environmentally safe approach for climate change mitigation. Vegetation has played a key role in the global carbon cycle for millions of years, in contrast to many technical and very expensive geoengineering techniques,” explains Becker...

Processes involved in carbon farming (Credit: Becker et al. 2013)

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