Brussels, 05 Aug 2005
As this summer's drought continues to affect many parts of Europe, an EU funded Integrated Project (IP) has warned that the dying crops, desiccated soil and forest fires associated with the dry conditions will release millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming.
The prediction is based on measurements taken by the CarboEurope IP during the droughts that affected Europe in 2003. The scientists estimate that during July and August of that year, some 500 million tonnes of CO2 escaped from western Europe's forests and fields - equivalent to twice the emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region over the same period.
The estimates were made using data from 100 different sites across Europe, which analysed air samples for CO2 and plotted the exchange of the gas between ecosystems and the atmosphere. Before the 2003 drought, CarboEurope estimated that Europe's ecosystems were actually absorbing 7 to 12 per cent of man-made carbon emissions, but the team now predicts that this year those same ecosystems will be net releasers of CO2.
Neither is the problem confined to Europe. Drought is also affecting large swathes of the US - crops are failing and cattle in the Midwest are dying of heat stress. In New York, the extra use of air conditioners at the end of July resulted in record power demand.
A team of researchers in the US recently dashed hopes that the increasingly warm summer temperatures would speed plant growth and increase the carbon absorption capacity of ecosystems, saying that the hot conditions have actually reduced plants' ability to absorb CO2.
'Excess heating drives the dieback of forest, accelerates soil carbon loss and transforms the land from a sink to a source of carbon for the atmosphere,' says Inez Fung, a member of the team from the University of California, Berkeley.
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