There's a lot more to consider when looking at climate change in future models than meets the eye. Yes carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels plays a part, but so can the simple changes in the agricultural practices that feed a growing world. And a new study published this week in the journal Nature reveals that levels of carbon dioxide will likely be on the rise, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, as summer heat and the tail-end of the growing season will spark major crop plants to release CO2 in parts of the growing season.
While the team of researchers from Boston University found that corn, soybeans, wheat and rice are the four leading crops that account for maximum CO2 release in the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere, the likely culprit will be corn. And how much could a corn plant affect our planet, you might ask yourself? The researchers revealed that agricultural production is likely to account for up to a 25% surge in the seasonal carbon cycle - far more than what humans are capable of.
"This study shows the power of modeling and data mining in addressing potential sources contributing to seasonal changes in carbon dioxide" program director for the National Science Foundation's Macro Systems Biology Program, who supported the research, Liz Blood says. "It points to the role of basic research in finding answers to complex problems."
Lead author of the study, biologist Mark Friedl of Boston University says that crops act as a sponge for CO2, which is a necessary contributor to the process of photosynthesis in these plants. And as there is a sharp increase in the demand of food production in the years to come, as a growing global population warrants more and more food to be produced, the researchers fear that this will directly correlate to an exponential rise in the levels of atmospheric CO2.
According to global production statistics for the four leading crops in the northern hemisphere, staples such as corn, soybeans, wheat and rice account for almost as much as 64% of all calories consumed worldwide. And with such a global presence, also comes the global threat.
While Friedl says that seasonal cycling of carbon in vegetation is particularly strong in the Northern Hemisphere, once the CO2 reaches the atmosphere from being released by the crops, the global effects will not discriminate northern versus southern hemispheres. And it will be a problem that all nations will have to combat together.