-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A mathematical model for
decay rates in leaves could help lead to better predictions for
climate change, scientists report.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology team created the
mathematical model after they analyzed data from forests and
ecosystems across North America and found general trends in decay
rates among all leaves.
The findings show that all plant matter decays faster as
temperatures increase, according to the study in the Sept. 7 issue
Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
The researchers said it may be possible to use the mathematical
model to predict the turnover times of various ecosystems, which
may help improve climate change models.
"It's a really messy problem," Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics in the department of Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, said in an MIT news release. "It's as messy as the pile of leaves in your backyard. You would think that each pile of leaves is different, depending on which tree it's from, where the pile is in your backyard and what the climate is like. What we're showing is that there's a mathematical sense in which all of these piles of leaves behave in the same way."
During spring and summer, leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere and convert it into organic carbon compounds. Carbon
dioxide is the main climate change gas produced by human sources
such as cars and industry.
After they fall off trees in autumn, leaves decompose and
release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Natural decay
contributes more than 90 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide
released into the atmosphere and oceans, according to the MIT news
Knowing the rate at which leaves decay could help scientists
predict the yearly global fluctuation of carbon dioxide and develop
better models for climate change, the researchers suggest.
The World Health Organization explains how
climate change affects health.
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