BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

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

BER Research Highlights

Global Photosynthesis on the Rise
Published: April 06, 2017
Posted: May 10, 2017

Plant photosynthesis was stable for hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, but then grew rapidly in the 20th century

The Science  
The team of researchers discovered the record of global photosynthesis by analyzing Antarctic snow data captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Gases trapped in different layers of Antarctic snow allow scientists to study global atmospheres of the past. This study focused on a gas stored in the ice that provides a record of the Earth's plant growth.

The Impact
Virtually all life on this planet depends on photosynthesis. The study found that the observation-based carbonyl sulfide (COS) record is most consistent with simulations of climate and the carbon cycle that assume large gross primary productivity (GPP) growth during the 20th century (31% increase).

The scientists analyzed the COS gas. It is a cousin of carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants remove COS from the air through a process that is related to the plant uptake of CO2. While photosynthesis is closely related to the atmospheric COS level, other processes in oceans, ecosystems, and industry can change the COS level also.  To account for all of these processes, the interdisciplinary team of scientists developed an Earth system model of COS sources and sinks. Although this COS analysis does not directly constrain models of future GPP growth, it does provide a global-scale benchmark for historical carbon cycle simulations.

BER Program Manager
Daniel Stover
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science, SC-23.1 (301-903-0289)

Principal Investigator
Elliott Campbell
University of California, Merced
Merced, CA 95343 (209.259.0296)

DOE / TES DE-SC0011999

The project is funded by the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (DOE/TES DE-SC0011999).

Campbell, J.E., et al. “Large historical growth in global terrestrial gross primary production.” Nature 54, 84–87 (2017). [DOI:10.1038/nature22030].

Related Links


Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)