labs_title

Caldeira Lab Research:Land Plants, Carbon, and Climate

Importance of carbon dioxide physiological forcing to future climate change

Long Cao, Govindasamy Bala, Ken Caldeira, Ramakrishna Nemani & George Ban-Weiss

Plant stomata open less widely under elevated CO2 concentrations, triggering changes to temperature and the water cycle. In this study, we show that in some places, over 25% of warming from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 content is a result of decreased evaporative cooling by plants.


Cao, L., G. Bala, K. Caldeira, R. Nemani, and G. Ban-Weiss. 2010. Importance of carbon dioxide physiological forcing to future climate change. PNAS, May 5, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0913000107

 

Figure: Percentage of warming due to the effect of carbon dioxide on plants. Carbon dioxide warms the Earth because it is a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. However, carbon dioxide causes plants to provide less evaporative cooling. Our study finds that, in some places, over 25% of warming from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 content is a result of decreased evaporative cooling by plants.

Abstract

An increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration influences climate both directly through its radiative effect (i.e., trapping longwave radiation) and indirectly through its physiological effect (i.e., reducing transpiration of land plants). Here we compare the climate response to radiative and physiological effects of increased CO2 using the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) coupled Community Land and Community Atmosphere Model. In response to a doubling of CO2, the radiative effect of CO2 causes mean surface air temperature over land to increase by 2.86 ± 0.02 K (± 1 standard error), whereas the physiological effects of CO2 on land plants alone causes air temperature over land to increase by 0.42 ± 0.02 K. Combined, these two effects cause a land surface warming of 3.33 ± 0.03 K. The radiative effect of doublingCO2 increases global runoff by 5.2 ± 0.6%, primarilyby increasing precipitation over the continents. The physiological effect increases runoff by 8.4 ± 0.6%, primarily by diminishing evapotranspiration from the continents. Combined, these two effects cause a 14.9 ± 0.7% increase in runoff. Relative humidity remains roughly constant in response to CO2-radiative forcing, whereas relative humidity over land decreases in response to CO2-physiological forcing as a result of reduced plant transpiration. Our study points to an emerging consensus that the physiological effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 on land plants will increase global warming beyond that caused by the radiative effects of CO2.

Link to Press Release