Skip to Content

A Ray of Light on Climate Change

sunbeams in a forest

Trees are a vital resource for pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it as plant tissue.

As temperatures rise, however, so does the rate of respiration—the process of breaking down stored sugars for energy, releasing CO2. Scientists have feared that a warming climate will prompt a jump in trees’ respiration rates big enough to flip them from carbon sinks to carbon sources, and climate change will accelerate.

But in a new study of 10 boreal and temperate tree species led by U of M researcher Peter Reich, trees grown at 6 degrees F above ambient temperatures—a level of increase expected this century—showed only a 5 percent average increase in respiration rate, compared to a 23 percent increase for trees suddenly exposed to the higher temperature. In other words, the trees that had the chance to acclimate to the higher temperatures responded by dampening their respiration by nearly 80 percent compared to trees that had no such chance.

“This work is important because most global carbon cycle models ignore this respiratory adjustment and project accelerated climate warming because of elevated respiratory CO2 release,” says Reich, a Regents Professor of forest resources in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). “Now, with better data, we can make those models more realistic.”

Read more about this discovery on websites of Minnesota Public Radio and the New York Times.

Erin Dennis

Erin Dennis

Erin is assistant communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research and senior editor of Inquiry. 

edennis@umn.edu

Latest Blog Posts

Syringe needle drawing a liquid drug therapy out of a small bottle.

As researchers explore potential treatments for COVID-19, it's important for the public to understand the difference between clinical trials and clinical care.

Read More
Categories:
Woman gesturing as she speaks while standing outside in grasslands

At 140 sites in 26 countries across the globe, Nutrient Network researchers are working to understand how human activities are changing grassland ecosystems.

Read More
Man in lab coat holding scientific equipment

A new online portal serves as the front door for companies looking to connect with the University to collaborate on research, license technologies, and more.

Read More
Emergency medical workers arrive at a hospital in an ambulance

The First Responder Toolkit helps professionals in high-stress roles avoid personal burnout, reduced feelings of empathy, and poorer job performance.

Read More