The "greening" of the Earth, the planet's response to climate change


The ecologist specialized in global ecology, plant ecophysiology, remote sensing and biosphere-atmosphere interactions, Josép Peñuelas spoke with EFEverde to explain the evolution of living beings and their role in climate change.

Director of the Global Ecology Unit (CSIC) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​Peñuelas indicated that where the effects of this change are most noticeable and will be noticed is in phenology (a science that studies the relationship between climatic factors and the cycles of living beings).

For example, when the leaves come out, when they fall, when the first swallows arrive, "all these kinds of things that people can more easily observe and that also have enormous importance in the functioning of the entire planet," said the researcher.

Phenological changes are the most obvious and if they continue with climate change, according to Peñuelas, there will be substitutions of one species for others and changes in their distribution.

The ecologist stressed that "we observe that both humans and plants and animals respond by changing genetically much faster than expected."

However, the changes in microorganisms are much faster because they reproduce very quickly and are adapting easily, having many more generations in much less time.

Among the studies carried out by Peñuelas to unravel the causes and consequences of climate change is that of the language of flowers, research that has provided fundamental data on flora and its relationship with the environment.

"Plants communicate"

"Plants communicate," said the scientist. "Hundreds of gases exchange with the atmosphere, not only CO2 and oxygen or water but many others such as hydrocarbons, alcohols and a large amount of gaseous compounds that produce an extraordinarily important biological function to communicate with each other, with herbivores or predators of herbivores, and that favor or attract their seed dispersers ”.

“Hundreds of gases exchange with the atmosphere, not only CO2 and oxygen or water, but many others such as hydrocarbons, alcohols and a large quantity of gaseous compounds that produce an extraordinarily important biological function, which originate fundamental changes in atmospheric chemistry and quality. from air".

Peñuelas has also introduced the science of metabolomics for his studies to analyze all the metabolics of a living being.

"Metabolomics is one of the technologies that is increasingly being introduced into ecology and can allow us to take great strides in understanding how life works," said the scientist.

"When we do experiments simulating climate change what we see is that the metabolism of living beings is altered in a substantial way."

"Remote sensing" through satellites and airborne sensors

“In our studies we also apply remote sensing, because as ecologists we are obliged to work from molecules, DNA or metabolites, to the way in which all these circumstances end up having repercussions at a local, regional and global level. To follow all these phenomena, the necessary tool is remote sensing ”, assured the scientist.

"The data that we obtain, since the 1980s, from satellites and airborne sensors allow us to know what is happening on the planet from the air."

"What we have verified is that we have an increasingly green planet, where there is more green biomass, and we attribute this to the fact that we are fertilizing the planet with carbon dioxide that is the food for plants."

However, Peñuelas explained, what is more worrying is that this situation has symptoms of saturation because there comes a time when it lacks water due to the drought or nutrients because they are limited, such as oil or because they lack light.

"That green mass can stop being so active and stop absorbing CO2 and therefore the greenhouse effect is accentuated."

In the balances that we make in the report of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC for its acronym in English), and in other international organizations we advise that we should take into account that there is a saturation of the capacity of the biosphere to absorb CO2 .

We will surely have to change the type of life we ​​are used to because if not this points to the planet getting too hot.

Photo: Field of wildflowers in Clanwilliam, South Africa. EFE / Nic Bothma

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