Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Report: World’s Carbon Sinks Not Completely Clogged

Photo courtesy of NASA via Flickr’s Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5246675993/lightbox/#/photos/gsfc/5246675993/

This NASA photo shows an algae bloom near New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. The bloom is an example of a carbon sink, an area that absorbs more carbon than it produces.

Carbon emission is one of the scientific issues of our time. While an overwhelming majority of scientists see a link between man-made emissions and global climate change, the rate at which emissions are entering the atmosphere and their precise impact continues to be hotly debated.

The findings of a new study written up in Science News Magazine puts an interesting twist on that debate.

The report shows that, contrary to the previous research, the earth’s ability to soak up carbon has “increased roughly in line with rising emissions.”

The process by which the earth soaks up atmospheric carbon takes place in areas known as “carbon sinks.” Carbon sinks are typically large ecosystems like forests whose dense plant life take in large amounts of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Another is the ocean, whose waters can absorb carbon dioxide. As global emissions rise, so does concern that carbon sinks have reached capacity and will not be able to soak up increasing carbon emissions.

Authors of the new report are not sure why the earth might be absorbing more carbon. They speculate that it could be that “forests are regrowing in parts of the world more than scientists had thought” or that “the oceans may be taking up significantly more carbon than researchers had estimated.”

But before you decide it’s OK to burn all that extra fossil fuel you have kicking around the back yard, take note: the authors of the study say increased emissions are still damaging the planet even if that carbon is being re-absorbed.


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