Climate Change Stunting Plant Growth

August 26, 2010

Earlier observations of plant growth spurred by warming temperatures are now staring in the face of a warmer world, which researchers say is hampering plant growth. The study, published in the journal Science, shows an overall decline in plant growth from 2000-2009 because of warming-induced droughts. As temperatures continue to climb, researchers are raising concern about food security and development of plant-based biofuels. “This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” said the study’s co-author Steven W. Running of the University of Montana. As drought caused by warming reduces the land’s ability to take up carbon, the result could be more carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere and thus more warming, explained co-author Maosheng Zhao of the University of Montana. Their study, based on data collected by satellites, found that while northerly areas experienced some increased plant growth from warmer temperatures, this was more than offset by warming-associated drought in the Southern Hemisphere. “We see this as a bit of a surprise, and potentially significant on a policy level because previous interpretations suggested climate change might actually help plant growth around the world,” Running said.