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A Benefit To Climate Change? Increased Carbon Dioxide Could Be Making The Earth Greener

By Rebekah Marcarelli | Jun 01, 2013 10:38 AM EDT

desert
Arid regions may be getting greener as a result of climate change. (Photo : Flickr)

Scientists may have discovered a benefit of climate change, a recent study has show that arid regions are actually becoming more fertile, Science News reported.

This change has been observed since the 1980s. Studies have shown that an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause a "fertilization effect."

The effect is being studied across desert regions of North America, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East.

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Randall Donohue of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia studied the effect by using a mathematical model to map the changes. The model showed that carbon dioxide will increase by 14 percent and foliage by five to ten.

The team then studied satellite imagery to figure out how the carbon dioxide created this effect.

"Lots of papers have shown an average increase in vegetation across the globe, and there is a lot of speculation about what's causing that," said Donohue, the lead author of the study. "Up until this point, they've linked the greening to fairly obvious climatic variables, such as a rise in temperature where it is normally cold or a rise in rainfall where it is normally dry. Lots of those papers speculated about the CO2 effect, but it has been very difficult to prove."

The team scanned the regions for proof that carbon dioxide was aiding in the fertilization of the plants.

"satellites are very good at detecting changes in total leaf cover, and it is in warm, dry environments that the CO2 effect is expected to most influence leaf cover," said Donohue.

The team mapped out "greenness" in each region over the past three years and then grouped the data. They also looked at differences in the maximum amount of  foliage over 20 years.

The study saw trees "reinvading grasslands", which could be an effect of the fertilization effect.

"The effect of higher carbon dioxide levels on plant function is an important process that needs greater consideration," said Donohue. "Even if nothing else in the climate changes as global CO2 levels rise, we will still see significant environmental changes because of the CO2 fertilization effect.

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