Scientists just discovered a surprising new factor that could make global warming worse

Scientists just discovered a surprising new factor that could make global warming worse

In a surprising new study, scientists say they’ve pinned down the climate factor most strongly tied to variations in terrestrial carbon storage — that is, the ability of plants and other features of the Earth’s surface to take up carbon, thus preventing it from going into the atmosphere. They’re arguing that the biggest driver is tropical nighttime temperatures, which are expected to warm at a faster rate than average temperatures otherwise will.

As these temperatures rise, the researchers say, they could begin to seriously interfere with forests’ ability to store carbon, even helping tip the scales one day in the future so that our global forests turn into a net source of greenhouse gas emissions — leaking carbon into the atmosphere rather than sucking it out, and thus exacerbating global climate change.

 

The amount of carbon taken up by land ecosystems “bounces around from year to year, largely due to the climate bouncing around,” said the paper’s lead author, William Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah and an assistant research scholar at Princeton University.

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