In order to capture carbon through photosynthesis, plants use up water. If there’s a shortage of water, they can’t capture carbon from the atmosphere. The study found that during the 2000-2004 drought, plants captured half as much carbon from the atmosphere as they do in a normal year. All the carbon that wasn’t captured stayed in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
Oregon State University professor and coauthor of the study Bev Law told us she expects things will only get worse. In fact, the 2000-2004 drought will seem wet in comparison with what’s to come, as droughts will likely increase in severity in the next century.
How did the drought between 2000 and 2004 affect you? How will you be affected if the West continues to get drier?
- Bev Law: Professor of Global Change Biology at Oregon State University