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Study: Growth in corn crops fuels carbon dioxide level spike

Over the past 50 years, scientists have noticed a jump in the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere following agricultural growing seasons. It has risen by as much as in half – without a plausible scientific explanation. A group of researchers have now pinpointed the reason, attributing the increase to agricultural production, with growth in corn crops having a disproportionate effect that affects the Earth’s ecosystems.

The scientists point to a domino effect of climate change to explain the CO2 increase. Higher temperatures lead to “longer growing seasons, quicker uptake of carbon by vegetation and the ‘greening’ of higher latitudes with more vegetation,” according to a statement from the National Science Foundation.

Crop production has increases significantly over the past several decades – more than doubling since 1961. Nearly 90 percent of corn crops are harvested in the midwestern U.S. and in China. Corn has accounted for two-thirds of the crops, and while only taking up 6 percent of the vegetation area in Northern Hemisphere, “are responsible for up to a quarter of the total increase in seasonal carbon exchange of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

The crop production hike effects the planet’s ecology even though crops absorb CO2 through “the plant respiration process of photosynthesis and release them during the winter,” according to Design & Trend.

The research was funded by the NSF’s MacroSystems Biology Program and carried out by a team from Boston University and several other research institutions. The team presented its findings in the journal Nature this week, us “modeling and data mining” that it hopes to continue to utilize to study the carbon monoxide increases in the atmosphere.