Deep in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside, scientists have constructed an elaborate laboratory to mimic the future of global warming.
Huge masts pump carbon dioxide into 25 hectares of forest, which will be analysed to see how it reacts to the greenhouse gas.
The extent to which plants might be able to lock up extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently unknown.
But Birmingham University’s Professor Rob Mackenzie, the lead scientist, hopes the project will help him to find out by mimicking the atmosphere expected by 2050.
He told the BBC: “We are confident that trees will continue to take in more CO2, though we are quite sure that there will be other things that will start to limit that.”
A lack of nutrients, a lack of water and rising temperatures could all restrict plants’ ability to lock up CO2 in their trunks and roots.
Professor Mackenzie added: “The impact of changing CO2 should show up in the leaf chemistry of exposed trees within days, and in the soil within weeks.
“Within three years stem growth, canopy structure, and a host of other structural forest elements should be different in the patches exposed to elevated CO2.”
Vegetation isn’t the Earth’s only naturally-occurring defence against climate change. Even deserts soak up surprisingly large amounts of carbon.
A 10-year study published in 2014 found that as carbon dioxide levels rise, arid regions will increase their CO2 uptake.
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