Editor's Summary

30 August 2007

Watering the plants

An assessment of the contribution of plant physiological effects to future changes in continental water runoff suggests that flooding risk under future global warming scenarios may be greater than was assumed. The stomatal pores that allow CO2 to enter plants and water to escape open less widely when CO2 concentrations are high, reducing water loss from the plant and thus leaving more water at the land surface. This effect may have contributed to the increase in continental runoff observed during the twentieth century, but most predictions of future changes in runoff don't account for it. The concept of 'CO2 equivalent', widely used to compare the effects of greenhouse gases on climate, does not account for this effect, so it may need to be revisited in light of these findings.

LetterProjected increase in continental runoff due to plant responses to increasing carbon dioxide

Richard A. Betts, Olivier Boucher, Matthew Collins, Peter M. Cox, Peter D. Falloon, Nicola Gedney, Deborah L. Hemming, Chris Huntingford, Chris D. Jones, David M. H. Sexton & Mark J. Webb