Scientists are blowing carbon dioxide into native bushland to test how it will respond to changing atmosphere.
Native Australian trees might not be able to absorb the higher levels of carbon dioxide predicted over the next 35 years, as the effects of climate change and increased burning of fossil fuels almost double CO2 levels.
Researchers at Sydney’s new Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment have started the largest CO2 enrichment experiment in the southern hemisphere to study the effects of higher carbon dioxide levels on Australian bushland.
“It’s taken several years of planning as well as two years of building to have this facility,” said the chief research scientist, David Ellsworth, of the University of Western Sydney.
“The question of the whole study is how trees will adapt to that higher carbon dioxide concentration and we currently don’t know, particularly in the context of native ecosystems in Australia.”
Over the next few months, researchers will pump high levels of carbon dioxide into areas of bushland through 28-metre high structures.
They will slowly increase the amount of CO2, from 390 parts per million, to 550 ppm until the levels mimic conditions predicted for later this century.
Scientists will then study the trees over the next 10 years, measuring how they adapt to the higher CO2 levels.
Based on studies in North America and Europe, Professor Ellsworth said Australian trees might be able to survive on less water.
“[It] is the potential silver lining on the dark clouds of climate change,” he said. “That water-saving is only a small benefit from other potential problems that trees might experience with the future higher CO2 atmosphere and potentially also warmer and or drier climate.”
The Minister for Science and Research, Senator Chris Evans, opened the facility yesterday.
“It’s a fantastically interesting and novel experiment that’s going on there,” Mr Evans said. “It’s a really large-scale experiment and I think it’s going to do a lot for our understanding of the impact of carbon on our forests.”