Higher temperatures make trees grow faster, but the wood is weaker and breaks more easily

As climate change pushes overall temperatures higher, trees and other plants “are experiencing longer growing seasons, sometimes as much as 3 extra weeks a year.”  That is helping trees grow faster, but research based in Europe indicates that “higher temperatures–combined with pollution from auto exhaust and farms–are making wood weaker.”  As a result, trees will break more easily in storms and lumber from the trees “is less durable.”  This is occurring at a time when climate change is also playing a role in more frequent extreme weather events–stronger storms.  Plus, trees “may be less efficient at soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The research tested spruce, oak, beech, and pine trees–using core samples and analyzing tree rings.  In all 4 species, “wood density has decreased by 8%-12%.”  The size of the decrease was unexpected.  “Increasing temperatures … probably account for some of the drop.  But another factor … is more nitrogen in the soil from agricultural fertilizer and vehicle exhaust.”  Other studies have also linked “increased fertilizer use to decreased wood density.”

As wood density decreases so does the carbon content of the wood–“by about 50%.”  This means the trees are absorbing less carbon dioxide “from the atmosphere every year.”

Read the article (Lakshmi Supriya, Science, August 22, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

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