Refinements in plant science suggest that climate forecasting may significantly underestimate how extreme future heat waves will feel—at least for central Asia, although much of interior North America shares similar critical conditions of conifer forests and grassland.
Australian scientists say that “maximum temperatures across the Asian continent from Europe to China could be 3°C to 5°C higher than previous estimates,” Climate News Network reports, because of a new understanding of how plants respond to warming habitats richer in atmospheric carbon.
“As more carbon becomes available, plants use water more economically,” the news agency explains. “Needleleaf forests, tundra, and farmland would actually release lower levels of water into the atmosphere.
“And since water in the atmosphere helps lower daytime temperatures, this means the temperatures would rise even higher than the models suggest.”
The research was conducted for Asia and did not examine North America, where greater cloud complicated its observations. However, much of central and boreal Canada possesses similar vegetation to central Asia.
“These results help explain why many climate models have consistently underestimated the increase in intensity of heat waves and the rise in maximum temperatures when compared to observations,” commented Jatin Kala of Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, who participated in the research.