By Silvio Marcacci, energyNow!
Outside Washington, D.C. a team of scientists are predicting the impact elevated atmospheric carbon levels could have on our world. That’s nothing new, as scientists study the same problem every day. What sets their work apart is how they’re making their predictions: a Chesapeake Bay salt marsh.
This virtual “climate crystal ball” is the nation’s longest-running experiment to measure carbon dioxide levels, and is predicting what plant life will look like by 2100 if atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise. energyNOW! chief correspondent Tyler Suiters looked at how the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has duplicated the effects of rising CO2 levels on a small-scale and forecasted what it means for plant ecosystems over the past two decades.
The experiment focuses on miniature greenhouse enclosures, built over the grassy Chesapeake salt marshes. CO2 is pumped in to simulate different atmospheric concentrations, possible given current and potential emissions levels, to simulate how the marshes are affected.
One clear effect has been a change in which plants can grow in the environment. While higher CO2 levels are theoretically better for plants that convert it to energy, the scientists have seen a change in the plants growing with higher atmospheric carbon, especially when comparing photos of the environment when the experiment began.
The experiment’s duration also shows potential for natural carbon sequestration – to a point. The salt marshes used in the experiment date back to the early 18th century, and have been storing carbon all that time. But current manmade emissions levels are higher than the Earth has ever seen, and plants have a limited capacity to convert CO2, limiting the net sequestration effect.
You can watch the full segment by clicking the video below:
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