Report: Global warming will green the deserts

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Could global warming make the world’s deserts greener places to live? According to new research, global warming has caused arid regions of the world to become greener as rising carbon dioxide levels create lusher plant life.

The leaf cover of plants in some arid regions by 11 percent between 1982 and 2010, according to a study from Australia that was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers say that this is due to the “fertilization effect” whereby increasing amounts of carbon dioxide leads to an average increase in plant life worldwide.

“If elevated CO2 causes the water use of individual leaves to drop, plants will respond by increasing their total numbers of leaves,” said Randall Donohue of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia.

The researchers looked at desert plants from different areas of the world, including the southwestern United States, the Australian outback, the Middle East and parts of Africa. They predicted that foliage would increase between 5 percent and 10 percent based on a 14 percent rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations since 1982.

As it turns out, foliage in these areas increased 11 percent since the 1980s and Donahue said that he and his team were the first to show a link between carbon dioxide and increasing desert foliage.

Donahue also said that the “fertilization effect” could shift the types of plant life that flourish in arid regions of the world.

“Trees are reinvading grasslands, and this could quite possibly be related to the carbon dioxide effect,” he said. “Long lived woody plants are deep rooted and are likely to benefit more than grasses from an increase in carbon dioxide.”

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