Global warming makes trees grow at fastest rate for 200 years

A A A

Forests in the northern hemisphere could be growing faster now than they were 200 years ago as a result of climate change, according to a study of trees in eastern America.

The trees appear to have accelerated growth rates due to longer growing seasons and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists have documented the changes to the growth of 55 plots of mixed hardwood forest over a period of 22 years, and have concluded that they are probably growing faster now than they have done at any time in the past 225 years – the age of the oldest trees in the study.

Geoffrey Parker, a forest ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre in Edgewater, Maryland, said that the increase in the rate of growth was unexpected and might be matched to the higher temperatures and longer growing seasons documented in the region. The growth may also be influenced by the significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, he said.

"We made a list of reasons these forests could be growing faster and then ruled half of them out," Dr Parker said. The study, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that northern forests may become increasingly important in terms of moderating the influence of man-made carbon dioxide on the climate.

Dr Parker and his colleagues have carried out a detailed census of the trees on a regular basis since 1987, measuring every tree and sapling that has a diameter of more than 2cm (0.78in). They calculated that the forest is producing an additional two tonnes of wood per acre each year, which is equivalent to a tree with a diameter of two feet sprouting up in the space of a year.

The scientists identified a series of plots with trees at different stages of growth and found that both young and old trees were showing increased growth rates. More than 90 per cent of the tree groups had grown by between two and four times faster than the scientists had predicted from estimates of the long-term rates of growth.

The scientists said that if the trees had grown as quickly throughout their lives as they had shown in recent years they would be much larger than they are now. They based their conclusions on 250,000 measurements taken over more than 20 years.

During the same period, the scientists measured the concentration of carbon dioxide in the forest air and found that it had risen by 12 per cent. The average temperature had increased by three-tenths of a degree, and the growing season had lengthened by 7.8 days. The scientists believe that all three factors have played a role in helping the trees to grow faster.

Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and extended growing seasons could be favourable for agriculture in some parts of the world, mainly in the northern hemisphere. The study in Maryland suggests that the extra growth in trees could help to act as a more efficient carbon "sink", which could offset the carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee