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CO2 Sequestration: Our Father was Right ... Probably
Volume 1, Number 5: 15 November 1998

Twelve years ago, our father published a brief note in Nature (Idso, 1986), wherein he opined that the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content was leading to a great "greening of the earth," driven, primarily, by carbon dioxide's powerful aerial fertilization effect. Ever since, he has continued to espouse this view, sometimes to his detriment, as it has not been all that popular in many circles. As time has progressed, however, more and more research is suggesting that he was, and continues to be, basically correct.

Perhaps the best document in support of our father's views is his own CO2 and the Biosphere: The Incredible Legacy of the Industrial Revolution (Idso, 1995), which is a printed version of a talk he gave at the University of Minnesota. In it, he cites a voluminous body of research (most of it not his own) that he put forth as evidence for an ongoing CO2-induced increase in the ability of plants to fix and sequester carbon. Subsequent studies, in our view, have tended to support the plausibility of his thesis; but the striking developments of the past month suggest that his vision of the future may well have become the reality of the present, as very serious and substantial research is indicating that the terrestrial biosphere is currently a net sink for carbon, and that it is sequestering it with a vengeance.

The 16 October 1998 issue of Science contains the two most recent and telling chapters in this unfolding story. In the first, Phillips et al. (1998) report that tropical forests - in Central and South America alone - are yearly sequestering enough carbon to account for fully 40% of the global missing carbon sink (see our Journal Review CO2 Sequestration by Tropical Forests). And the report by Fan et al. (1998) is even more astounding. These authors calculate that between the latitudes of 15 and 51N, the North American land mass is yearly sequestering, in the words of Science news writer Jocelyn Kaiser (1998), "a whopping 1.7 petagrams of carbon a year - enough to suck up every ton of carbon discharged annually by fossil fuel burning in Canada and the United States" (see our Journal Review CO2 Sequestration in North America).

These findings suggest that the terrestrial biosphere is removing CO2 from the atmosphere at a rate significantly faster than anyone, except our father, considered even remotely possible only a few short years ago. And with such enormous carbon sequestration numbers being bandied about, it is possible we could soon see a marked decline in the rate of rise of the air's CO2 content, purely as a result of natural processes, which is something else that our father predicted a few years back (Idso, 1991a, b). Clearly, however, the final word on this subject is not yet in; and that is why we tacked on the final word "probably" to the end of the title of this editorial. We don't want our Dad to get too big a head just yet. Nevertheless, the writing on the wall would appear to be saying that his prognostications of the past were prescient indeed, and that the planet may well be able to care for itself in the matter of carbon dioxide and climate change without we humans having to adjudicate its future.

Craig D. Idso, Ph.D.
Keith E. Idso, Ph.D.
Vice President

Fan, S., Gloor, M., Mahlman, J., Pacala, S., Sarmiento, J., Takahashi, T. and Tans, P. 1998. A large terrestrial carbon sink in North America implied by atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide data and models. Science 282: 442-446.

Idso, S.B. 1986. Industrial age leading to the greening of the Earth? Nature 320: 22.

Idso, S.B. 1995. CO2 and the Biosphere: The Incredible Legacy of the Industrial Revolution. Department of Soil, Water & Climate, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

Idso, S.B. 1991a. The aerial fertilization effect of CO2 and its implications for global carbon cycling and maximum greenhouse warming. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 72: 962-965.

Idso, S.B. 1991b. Reply to comments of L.D. Danny Harvey, Bert Bolin, and P. Lehmann. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 72: 1910-1914.

Kaiser, J. 1998. Possibly vast greenhouse gas sponge ignites controversy. Science 282: 386-387.

Phillips, O.L., Malhi, Y., Higuchi, N., Laurance, W.F., Nunez, P.V., Vasquez, R.M., Laurance, S.G., Ferreira, L.V., Stern, M., Brown, S. and Grace, J. 1998. Changes in the carbon balance of tropical forests: Evidence from long-term plots. Science 282: 439-442.

15 November 1998