Climate change has a disconcerting tendency to amplify itself through feedback effects. Melting sea ice exposes dark water, allowing the ocean to soak up more heat. Arctic warming speeds the release of carbon dioxide from permafrost. And, as researchers discussed at a meeting last week in Seefeld, Austria, climate extremes — heatwaves, droughts and storms — can hamper plant growth, weakening a major buffer against the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“Heatwaves and droughts will very likely become more frequent in a warmer climate, and ecosystems will somehow respond,” says Philippe Ciais, a carbon-cycle researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in Gif-sur-Yvette, France. “More storms will add an extra dimension to the problem.”