Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Nitrogen and warmth are good for plants, who would have guessed?

Researchers from the Forestry School at Michagan's Technological University have been investigating acid rain since 1987. They have found that increased nitrogen and increased temperatures have lengthened the growing season by 10–11 days. Andrew Burton
found that the trees grow faster at higher temperatures and store more carbon at greater concentrations of nitrogen, a chemical constituent of acid rain, providing there is sufficient moisture.
The article mentions climate change, though any long term change in temperature is climate change whatever the cause. The unqualified mention of climate change carries an implicit anthropomorphic qualifier but this is neither proven nor disproven by these findings. It does remind us that increased temperatures are generally beneficial.

Are these findings overly surprising? It is definitely useful research. However we do need to remember that coal is metamorphic biomass. If we burn coal we are releasing the components of plants back into the biosphere. Coal is the stuff of trees. If coal is burnt well (to avoid the formation of new organic toxins) the sulphur, phosphorus, nitrogen, and trace elements are what plants use. The release of massive amounts of compounds in a focused area may have some unintended consequences, but that these compounds are good fertilisers is to be expected.

Any predictions for further research? The article mentions that the trees need sufficient moisture. Perhaps an increase in CO2 (related to temperature, not burning fuels) may allow more growth with less water as seen in other research.

Hat tip: Jay

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