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A new study in the journal Scientific Reports shows enhanced levels of carbon dioxide are driving global dryland greening in recent decades. Drylands – zones where mean annual precipitation is less than two-thirds of potential evaporation – make up the largest part of the global terrestrial ecosystem. After analyzing data from 45 studies covering eight countries, researchers from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis concluded the most likely source of the greening of dryland areas around the world is rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Regional scale analyses using global satellites show extensive areas of drylands greening in northern China, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Mongolia, the Sahel and South America.
The authors ruled out other potential drivers for the greening, concluding only increased carbon dioxide levels provided a global explanation for changes to dryland vegetation. Under increased carbon dioxide levels, plants use water more efficiently, reducing the amount of moisture lost during respiration and storing more water in the soil. The study found elevated carbon dioxide enhanced soil water levels in drylands by 17 percent.