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(PHYSORG)- The ability of forests, plants and soil to suck carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air has been under-estimated, according to a study on Wednesday that challenges a benchmark for calculating the greenhouse-gas problem.
Like the sea, the land is a carbon "sink", or sponge, helping to absorb heat-trapping CO2 disgorged by the burning of fossil fuels.
A conventional estimate is that soil and vegetation take in roughly 120 billion tonnes, or gigatonnes, of carbon each year through the natural process of photosynthesis.
The new study, published in the science journal Nature, says the uptake could be 25-45 percent higher, to 150-175 gigatonnes per year.
But relatively little of this extra carbon is likely to be stored permanently in the plant, say the researchers. Instead, it is likely to re-enter the atmosphere through plant respiration.
This will be a disappointment for those looking for some good news in the fight against climate change.