Uh oh, CO2 actually reverses temperature effect on rangelands

The results of a USDA experiment called PHACE (Prairie Heating and CO2 Enrichment) where liquid CO2 is injected into the ground from a storage tank, then effects measure on grassland growth, shows a surprising result: increased range grass growth leading to retaining more soil moisture. I hate it when that happens. I’ll have to give them credit though, back in 2007 in the paper starting the project they theorized from models that:

Model results suggest that soil water content, plant production, soil respiration, and nutrient mineralization will increase for the high-CO treatment. Soil water content will decrease for all years, while nitrogen mineralization, soil respiration, and plant production will both decrease and increase under warming depending on yearly differences in water stress.

And the credit is, they followed through with a ground truth experiment to verify the model.

The PHACE project uses liquid CO2, stored in a 100,000 gallon refrigerated tank located near the field trailer.

But reality turned out to be different than model output. Big surprise. More photos here From the United States Department of Agriculture – Research, Education and Economics

USDA scientists study effects of rising carbon dioxide on rangelands

Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can reverse the drying effects of predicted higher temperatures on semi-arid rangelands, according to a study published today in the scientific journal Nature by a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists.

Warmer temperatures increase water loss to the atmosphere, leading to drier soils. In contrast, higher CO2 levels cause leaf stomatal pores to partly close, lessening the amount of water vapor that escapes and the amount of water plants draw from soil. This new study finds that CO2 does more to counterbalance warming-induced water loss than previously expected. In fact, simulations of levels of warming and CO2 predicted for later this century demonstrated no net change in soil water, and actually increased levels of plant growth for warm-season grasses.

“By combining higher temperatures with elevated CO2 levels in an experiment on actual rangeland, these researchers are developing the scientific knowledge base to help prepare managers of the world’s rangelands for what is likely to happen as climate changes in the future,” said Edward B. Knipling, administrator of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

The results cover the first four years of the eight-year Prairie Heating and CO2 Enrichment (PHACE) experiment on native northern mixed grass rangeland. The study is being conducted by the ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit (RRRU) at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station near Cheyenne, Wyo.

ARS plant physiologist Jack Morgan leads the study, which uses both CO2 pipelines and thermal infrared heaters to simulate global warming conditions predicted for the end of the century: 600 parts per million (ppm) of CO2—compared to today’s average 390 ppm—and day/night temperatures raised by 3 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

Based on these findings, warmer temperatures would likely play a role in changing the relative success of various grass types. “Only the warm-season grasses had their growth boosted higher by CO2 and warmer temperatures,” Morgan said. “If this leads to a competitive advantage for warm-season grasses, it may increase the challenges faced by ranchers who desire cool-season grasses for early-season forage.”

Elise Pendall and David Williams at the University of Wyoming at Laramie and Matthew Wallenstein at Colorado State University at Fort Collins also are participating in the study, which will be completed in 2013. Retired ARS soil scientist Bruce Kimball, designer of the infrared heater system, is helping conduct the study. Kimball serves as a research collaborator at the ARS U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Ariz.

Grass-dominated, dry rangelands account for approximately a third of the Earth’s land surface, providing most of the forage eaten by livestock. This research, the first of its kind on this scale for rangelands, supports the USDA priority of helping farmers and ranchers throughout the United States and the rest of the world best adapt production practices to variable climate patterns.

Morgan said more research is needed to determine how the water-savings effect applies over the long run and in other types of semi-arid rangelands as well as to croplands in semi-arid areas. “It is important to understand that CO2 only offset the direct effects of warming on soil water in this experiment, and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world,” he said.

###

In addition to ARS funding, the research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

h/t to Bruce Hall

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57 thoughts on “Uh oh, CO2 actually reverses temperature effect on rangelands

  1. How about they just drop all models related to co2 and just admit that it is the breath of life for all plants and animals.

  2. It is important to understand that CO2 only offset the direct effects of warming on soil water in this experiment, and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world

    In other words: “we falsified our original prediction by experiment, but we still hold our original prediction was right — just not in this case”.

    You think that having just falsified one prediction that they would be wise to rethink their original assumptions. But apparently not.

  3. CO2 causes plants to grow?!? Astonishing.
    What will we learn next?
    (we really need a sarcasm font …)

  4. Ok — so they admitted the truth (1) — then speculated what would happen if the theory were only right….

    Morgan said more research is needed to determine how (1) the water-savings effect applies over the long run and in other types of semi-arid rangelands as well as to croplands in semi-arid areas. (2) “It is important to understand that CO2 only offset the direct effects of warming on soil water in this experiment, and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world,” he said.

    Hey — you gotta follow the orthodox preaching man… even if you did disprove the IPCC Climate -bible…

    Oh the convolutions to deceive, when we endeavor to believe!

  5. Duh? Plants grow in the presence of CO2? And they claim we were in denial? Imagine that – this project has to be scrapped and the quicker the better otherwise what will the eco-fanatics blame next? Obviously no self respecting “green” pages would dare publish this on their forum.

    Maybe I should mention this story back in 2010.
    Plant physiologist Steve Prior, plant pathologist Brett Runion, and their colleagues at the ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Ala., found that water use efficiency response to
    high CO2 was much greater for soybeans than for sorghum over the 6-year study.

    The outdoor study was done using open-top growth chambers for exposing the crops to the higher levels of CO2. The crops were monitored for photosynthesis and transpiration during their reproductive growth stages, when water demand is highest.

    The scientists compared soybean/sorghum rotations with both conventional tillage and no-till. With no-till there is no plowing, only minimal disturbance of the soil while planting seeds. The scientists also compared current ambient CO2 levels—about 370 parts per million (ppm)—with levels of 720 ppm expected within this century.

    With the higher level of CO2, regardless of tillage method, soybean photosynthesis increased by about 50 percent, while sorghum photosynthesis rose by only 15 percent. This was expected because crops like soybean, which have a C3 photosynthetic pathway, are known to respond better to high CO2 levels than crops like sorghum and corn that have a C4 photosynthetic pathway. Most plants worldwide are C3 plants.

    Sorghum’s increased water use efficiency was mainly due to less water transpired or lost through the leaf pores (stomata).

    Although no-till didn’t make a difference as far as crops responding to high CO2, it can greatly reduce soil erosion, conserve soil water, and increase carbon storage, among its many benefits.

    The results of this research were published earlier this year in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

    Provided by USDA Agricultural Research Service

  6. I think it is time that the “Warmista Apologia” was standardised to save them time and effort. Perhaps we could start with:
    1. More research is needed, send grant money to the following address……..
    2.Our observations are obviously in need of data processing/adjusting/smoothing (choose one) as they do not agree with the model.
    2 Our results in no way, shape or form contradict the facts of AGW in spite of not being in agreement with any of them.

    Anyone have any suggestions?

  7. Dear Moderators,
    “injected into the ground from a storage tank, then effects measure on grassland growth”
    Should be: “then effects on grassland growth measured”

  8. They need to re-do the experiment without the silly heaters, to match our actual future: higher CO2 but lower temps.
    The latest Science has a doom&gloom coral-reef article, full of ‘projected’, ‘expected’, ‘could’, ‘may’, etc.
    When Warmistas utter ‘forecast’, ‘project’, ‘predict’, or ‘expect’, just read ‘FANTASIZE’.
    Ideological blinders firmly fixed, they march over the Credibility Cliff, pockets stuffed with Govt $.

  9. “…and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world,”

    Now, wait – is AGW supposed to increase the rainfall due to more water vapor in the air due to the higher temps or is AGW supposed to decrease the rainfall because…droughts only occur when it is hot (yeah, right!)?? I do wish these folks would make up their collective minds & get it straight.
    /sarc.

    Jeff

  10. Note that they induced “day/night temperatures raised by 3 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively,” (1.7 – 2.8 C). They only tested the model predictions, not what would actually happen under 600 ppm of CO2. No one knows what would happen to air temperatures under 600 ppm of atmospheric CO2. So, what the study shows is that under model-predicted dire thermal circumstances, which may well be different from reality, arid range land grasses still do very well. If 2050 ushers in 600 ppm of CO2 and a more reasonable 0.1-0.5 C temperature increase (or no sensible increase at all), range lands could turn boisterous.

  11. There’s a paper somewhere that shows that plants reduce their stomate density in increased CO2 environments. This leads to far less transpiration and makes them significantly more water efficient. IIRC, most plants have a fully packed stomate pattern below about 250 ppm which makes sense when we know they struggle below 200ppm.

    Plants LUV CO2 !! and so should we.

  12. “Only the warm-season grasses had their growth boosted higher by CO2 and warmer temperatures,” Morgan said. “If this leads to a competitive advantage for warm-season grasses, it may increase the challenges faced by ranchers who desire cool-season grasses for early-season forage.”

    So let me get this straight… it took how many 100k in grants and how many PHDs to figure out that plants that like hot weather do better in hot weather… and plants that like cold weather do better in cold weather… and that if the planet is getting hotter…hot weather plants will have an advantage?

    Where’s my PHD I knew that back in 4th grade…


  13. Model results suggest that soil water content, plant production, soil respiration, and nutrient mineralization will increase for the high-CO treatment.

    Emphasis added.
    Don’t mean to nitpick but shouldn’t “high-CO” read high-CO2

  14. Next thing they’ll be telling us plants give off oxygen. Jack, I don’t want to rain on your parade but you know those CO2 global warming predictions that are suppose to occur over the next 100 years. That’s all BS.

  15. So in two days I expect a RealClimate response attempting to debunk the model whilst ignoring the observed results. Seems to be their trend lately.

  16. Ugh, how many sites did they have, how represetative were the locations and were conditions in that time period represenative of global conditions? It’s usually a logical error to extrrapolate local results to global predictions. I would love to see this repeated elsewhere before drawing any conclusions or making global models based on the results of a small regional experiment on a short time scale. Also, global precipitation has increased. Did they simulate a change in precipitation? Doesn’t sound like it. Was there a controll group of locations which were exposed to different combinations of influence? This sounds an awefull lot like ice core and sediment samples taken at a few locations but without adequate sample size to be significant.

  17. Well, at least they admitted their observations did not match their theory. They still added the ususal ” Global Warming still exists” letterhead though, just to be sure to get more funding.

    I’ve also noticed a distinct lack of the ususal trolls on this thread. Maybe they are off at RC being prepped what to say?

  18. Dale says:
    August 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    So in two days I expect a RealClimate response attempting to debunk the model whilst ignoring the observed results. Seems to be their trend lately.

    That’s because all they understand is models. You throw reality at ‘em, and they’re lost in cyberspace (As in “How the he!! do I evaluate reality with nibbles and bits?”)

  19. Gary Swift says:
    August 3, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    … It’s usually a logical error to extrrapolate local results to global predictions. I would love to see this repeated elsewhere before drawing any conclusions or making global models based on the results of a small regional experiment on a short time scale.

    Sure–just as ice in the Antarctic melts at a different temperature than in the Arctic. Just as carbon cycle basics are different in the shade than they are in full sunlight. Just as… Need I continue?

  20. lol, wait, the model was wr….. try again….. the model was wgonr…… sigh….. the model was gnorw…….acckk!!! Its untypable!!!

    The model didn’t properly account for the realistic scenario reality provides.

  21. From J. Felton onAugust 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm:

    I’ve also noticed a distinct lack of the ususal trolls on this thread. Maybe they are off at RC being prepped what to say?

    Well, as of this writing, “Bystander” hasn’t dropped off another large quoted section, without any commentary of his own (too much effort?), yet. Recently he regurgitated a chunk from SkepticallyScience, so he may get his prep over there instead.

  22. “If this leads to a competitive advantage for warm-season grasses, it may increase the challenges faced by ranchers who desire cool-season grasses for early-season forage.”

    And why is this a concern? If I’m understanding the plant physiology part of this study, the warm weather grasses will retain more moisture and presumably more nutrients and probably be better forage in the warm season then they are now.

    What are they going to do if they conduct the same experiment on cool-weather grasses and discover that they too love CO2 and grow longer into the warm-weather season? Then we’ll have a real problem. The ranchers may actually desire to forage on the CO2 improved warm-weather grasses instead.

    This is yet another case of if it’s better than the models predicted then there must be something much worse even though we aren’t sure but send more money and we’ll try to make up our minds.

  23. “kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    August 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm
    From J. Felton onAugust 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm:

    I’ve also noticed a distinct lack of the ususal trolls on this thread. Maybe they are off at RC being prepped what to say?

    Well, as of this writing”

    Well, since we know how it goes, we can post for them if we want to.

    First the change of topic: Aerosols in China have increased, making this study irrelevant.

    Second the straw man: Inhoef isn’t a climate expert you know.

    Third comes the personal attack: You people are so dumb that it’s not worth posting here.

    Next is the emotional appeal: Think of our childrens’ childrens’ children, and what they will think of you because you destroyed the planet before they were even born.

    And finally we get a link to something on Realclimate as if that’s a credible source.

    Did that about cover the trolling to-do list?

    Actually, if I were a troll, I would attack the sensational headline on this one. It’s a little over the top I think. Sounds like something Gavin might come up with.

  24. While reading Behind the Mirror be Konrad Lorenz* (one of the first attempts to explain the evolutionary origin of human behavior and learning patterns, including so called conscious self-awareness — typically German verbose and sometimes overly transcendental book, overloaded by quotations and references, and poisoned by philosophical digressions** but containing some very interesting insights, nevertheless), one factoid attracted my attention.

    As every biologist knows, the Earth-wide process of rotting, which is a fate of all vegetable and animal matter, is effected by the bacteria, and the main product of this bacterial activity is carbon dioxide. Any small increase in temperature results in large increase of the activity in these bacteria; the area of their activity becomes larger, and the activity itself intensifies.

    Therefore, if there was, for any reason(s), some insignificant increase of temperature in moderate and subarctic zones during the 20th century, such increase should have inevitably resulted in the increase of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

    I am curious: why haven’t I seen any mentioning of this significant and obvious biological feedback mechanisms in any alarmist pseudo-scientific literature? Could any of the AGW proponents explain this glaring omission?

    * In his last years, Konrad Lorenz has become one of the founders of the environmentalist movement, and one of the most outspoken enemies of nuclear energy. His media interviews of this time are as illogical and as pathetic as any public expressions of the green fanaticism. However, his earlier works, while not really groundbreaking or free of delusions, were important in that he tried to systematize the perception of human behavior and cultural malfunctions of our epoch from the evolutionary point of view.
    ** Karl Buehler, famous German biologist (and Konrad Lorenz’s teacher) was fond of saying that “philosophy is a pathological inactivity of human faculties.”

  25. “Only the warm-season grasses had their growth boosted higher by CO2 and warmer temperatures,” Morgan said. “If this leads to a competitive advantage for warm-season grasses, it may increase the challenges faced by ranchers who desire cool-season grasses for early-season forage.”

    But wouldn’t the warmer temperatures mean that the warm-season grasses would sprout sooner, providing early-season forage? I mean, the need of those ranchers is for available forage early in the season, rather than cool-season grasses specifically, right?

  26. For anyone else who had a hard time finding the article from the link above, try: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2011/110803.htm

    Interesting, excellent work, and not a surprise to those who have been keeping up. Unfortunately, the researchers felt compelled to add the usual shibboleth:

    “It is important to understand that CO2 only offset the direct effects of warming on soil water in this experiment, and that it is unlikely to offset more severe drought due to combined warming and reduced precipitation projected for many regions of the world,”

    In other words, the models didn’t apply here, but they surely apply everywhere else. Like, say, the Sahel? Pathetic.

  27. Hi Anthony,

    Interesting article.

    Have you seen this lecture by Professor Salby at MAcQuarie university in Aus?

    http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/podcast/global-emission-of-carbon-dioxide-the-contribution-from-natural-sources/

    He has a paper published analysing the carbon 13/12 relationship and is convinced that most of the CO2 fluctuations are NATURAL, not Anthropogenic.

    This has caused a stir, as he is a mainstream climatology professor.

    Is this worth an article. I would like to know mre and see the response fraom mainstream science.

    Andrew Bolt also had this on his blog.

    Cheers

    ANdrew

  28. Andrew says:
    August 3, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I have listened to Professor Salby’s presentation as posted, and it is a must listen for all of you. Prof. Salby’s arguments and evidence about the natural source contributions of CO2 emissions are devastating to both the IPCC’s conclusions and to warmist arguments in general. It also confirms what I have been reading here and elsewhere – to paraphrase Prof. Selby, CO2 is NOT driving the bus while climate follows behind; climate is driving the bus, and CO2 is in “the back of the bus,” as Prof. Selby put it.

  29. By the way, Anthony, I hope you or someone else can obtain a written transcript of Prof. Selby’s talk and post a link to it here.

  30. I love how every single paper without exception that contradicts accepted AGW assumptions, finishes with a “but its still gonna get us send more money” conclusion.

  31. Those that worry over warm season grasses becoming predominant are a tad behind the eight ball. The couch and kikuyu type grasses are loaded with sugar. They suck in carbon and give grazing animals some high octane fuel. Their rampant growth give animals warmth in the first part of winter for though dormant are packed with goodies. Animals eat them to ground level which is what these grasses prefer. When the warmth returns their growth is prolific, what is the problem. I have horses and many kangaroos they chew these grasses to ground level, for the runners though looking frost bitten are full of carbon with a chemical composition not much different to gasoline. This is a win win study

  32. Shock horror the models where wrong, I’m still amazed that people think models are the answer although they are the only answer to the question prove AGW.

    Sorry but you work with computers long enough you start to dislike them.

    On a lighter note I became an uncle for the first time today, yah!!!

  33. Interstellar Bill says:
    August 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm
    Ideological blinders firmly fixed, they march over the Credibility Cliff, pockets stuffed with Govt $.

    The only government money is what has been taken from taxpayers. It’s our money!


  34. This new study finds that CO2 does more to counterbalance warming-induced water loss than previously expected. In fact, simulations of levels of warming and CO2 predicted for later this century demonstrated no net change in soil water, and actually increased levels of plant growth for warm-season grasses.

    This about says it all.


  35. Gary Swift says:
    August 3, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    snip

    It’s usually a logical error to extrrapolate local results to global predictions. I would love to see this repeated elsewhere before drawing any conclusions or making global models based on the results of a small regional experiment on a short time scale.

    Gee Gary, how does the extrapolations from the collapse of the Larsen and the Wilkins ice shelves into the melting of the ice over the entire continent of Antarctica fit in with your observation?

  36. Dear moderator,

    Using the height of the guy in front of the tank as “6 feet = 1.8 meters” as a yardstick (LOL), the tank is 2 meters tall by 17 meters long.

    V = pi • R² • L (where R = 1 meter)
    V = 3.14 • 1² • 17
    V = 52 m³ = 52,000 L = 13,700 gallons.

    Not 100,000. One seventh as much. Might want to change the caption on the picture to “man stands in front of 50,000 liter CO2 tank.

    Luv ur site. Been reading it since my kids were sprats.

  37. A study obviously designed to prove the catastrophic damage that WILL be caused by AGW. The study will be seen as a failure by the funding organizations and will be ended early or corrupted with unwarranted changes.

    The grass isn’t dead and it’s a travesty that it grew faster.

    This study is pretty damming when it appears it was started with preconceptions over the outcome and it failed to produce the desired result. I am very happy to see the researchers published the results as unfavorable as thet are to their obvious bias. It’s sickenning to read the obligatory caveat that AGW will still kill us all in spite of their findings. Without that caveat, they would have found it much harder to publish these results and it’s absence would have caused a severe drought in funding.

  38. Plants can actually adapt to changing conditions. Wow. It is unfortunate that people cannot do the same, we will just be standing there as the sea rises to our belly buttons when the Greenland ice cap melts. /sarc

  39. “FerdinandAkin says:
    August 4, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Gee Gary, how does the extrapolations from the collapse of the Larsen and the Wilkins ice shelves into the melting of the ice over the entire continent of Antarctica fit in with your observation?”

    Yeah, there’s another good example.

    My favorite is the deep ice cores though. How do you validate the Vostock core, for example, without a similar core from someplace nearby? Oh, never mind, who needs validation when you have a concensus?

  40. vboring says:
    August 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm
    I can’t imagine how this got published.

    easy. the current meme making the rounds is that native grass ( in California, for example ) is losing to the invasive alien grass, owing to, what else…… AGW.

    now this study says that this creates a new challenge. the ranchers that need cold weather grass earlier in the season are going to have chanllenges…. ergo, it is worse than we thought. so publish this new meme.

  41. “This new study finds that CO2 does more to counterbalance warming-induced water loss than previously expected.”

    That’s because scientists have been conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to expect bad things from higher CO2 levels. This conditioning generally occurs on college and university campuses which are notorious bastions for idealistic spoiled youths and where the most sheltered of those youths move straight from being students to professors never leaving the sheltered liberal enclave where their initial indoctrination occured. In other words a few students from each graduating class are promoted from one of Pavlov’s dogs to Pavlov himself. :-)

  42. GoatGuy says:
    August 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Using the height of the guy in front of the tank as “6 feet = 1.8 meters” as a yardstick (LOL), the tank is 2 meters tall by 17 meters long.

    V = pi • R² • L (where R = 1 meter)
    V = 3.14 • 1² • 17
    V = 52 m³ = 52,000 L = 13,700 gallons.

    Not 100,000. One seventh as much. Might want to change the caption on the picture to “man stands in front of 50,000 liter CO2 tank.

    Luv ur site. Been reading it since my kids were sprats.

    DUDE! GOOD CATCH!

    Using a ruler and the guy’s height at 6 feet for scale reference I measure the tank as 8 feet by 52 feet which works out to a bit under 20,000 gallons. No way in hell that’s a 50,000 gallon tank. Not even half that.

  43. Dave Springer says:
    August 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I also looked at this. I appears to me that it is probably a typo. Since this is an insulated and refrigerated tank, I an guessing that the takn itself is ~ 6ft dia and 40′ +/- long therefore about 10,000 gal.

  44. Better assume 6 inches on the tank radius for insulation (12 inches on the diameter), and maybe 1/2 to 3/4 inches for the tank wall thickness.

  45. The best of all possible worlds awaits:
    Since CO2 does not actually increase temperatures, rising CO2 will improve yields, conserve water, and have no effect on rangeland grass mixtures and crop balances.

  46. Dave;
    It’s even less than that. He’s SITTING on the platform holding the tank. Take a look at the height of his knees above the ground. Or just look at the torso. For the great majority of men, sitting height (butt to top of head) is 28″. (Women is 24″).

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