A new CSIRO study released last week reveals that the Australian landscape soaked up one third of the country’s fossil-fueled carbon emissions over the last two decades. It also revealed that Australia exported 2.5 times as much carbon in fossil fuels than it emitted within its own borders. The landmark study called The Australian Terrestrial Carbon Budget was conducted over a three year period, and the results were published in the journal Biogeosciences. The main aim was to understand how much land carbon is lost or gained through what scientists call plant and soil “breathing,” and how climate variability affects those patterns.

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The study unveiled certain facts: an average of 2.2 billion tons of CO2 is taken up by plants each year, and 56 percent of that is soaked up by grassy vegetation. The remainder is absorbed by woody vegetation. Additionally, greater uptake occurs during wet years, while plants will exhale CO2 equivalent to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions during periods of drought.

“For Australia as a whole, increased carbon dioxide has caused a 15 per cent increase in plant production over the last two decades, relative to pre-industrial times,” the study’s lead author Dr Vanessa Haverd said in a recent press statement.

“It is important to know that carbon stored in the land during periods of high plant growth may disappear again during the next drought,” she added. Factors such as fires, erosion and deforestation were taken into account.

The study is just one of 14 regional and continental studies being conducted as part of the Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes (RECCAP).