Tracking fossil fuel CO2 with corn | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 5 | p. 35 | Concentrates
Issue Date: January 29, 2007

Tracking fossil fuel CO2 with corn

Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Climate Change
News Channels: Environmental SCENE

The distribution of fossil-fuel-produced CO2 in the lower atmosphere may be reflected in the tissues of annual plants—corn in particular—a new study suggests. Fossil fuels contain no 14C, a trait that renders the CO2 produced when we burn coal, oil, and gas distinguishable from other atmospheric CO2 sources. Annual plants take in this CO2 during their growth cycle. In areas with higher fossil-fuel-derived CO2, carbon in the plant tissue contains relatively lower percentages of 14C. This allows scientists to monitor atmospheric composition over an entire season. With this in mind, James T. Randerson, of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues measured levels of 14C in corn plants in dozens of farmers' fields throughout North America and found a clear pattern: The Rocky Mountains, where 14C levels were highest, act as a barrier to fossil fuel CO2 migration across the U.S. Fossil fuel CO2 levels were higher in California and on the East Coast, particularly in states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia (Geophys. Res. Lett. 2007, 34, L02816).

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