U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

A Global Carbon Cycle Problem Solved
Published: January 23, 2002
Posted: February 01, 2002

Recently published research supported by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program has answered an important question about future changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration. During their normal respiratory metabolism, plants globally release about 10 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere each year as humans do by burning fossil fuels (plants also take up CO2 during photosynthesis, so their respiration does not normally contribute to the ongoing atmospheric CO2 increase). Any changes in normal global plant respiration might therefore affect atmospheric CO2 levels. It has been thought for about a decade that rising CO2 might inhibit plant respiration, and that this would act as an important negative feedback on atmospheric CO2 increase. But recent BER research, and other studies building on the BER-supported foundation, indicates that plant respiration is not directly affected by CO2 concentration. Because of this, no negative feedback on CO2 increase is expected from a slowing of plant respiration, and an important uncertainty concerning the future course of atmospheric CO2 changes has been eliminated.

Contact: Jeffrey S. Amthor, SC-74, 3-2507
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER
      (formerly SC-74 Environmental Sciences Division, OBER)


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