The changing palette of colors in a forest signals more than the arrival of a new season. For those who know how to look, the colors also reveal how much carbon dioxide the trees are absorbing from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, a new study suggests. By analyzing thousands of photographs of a forest canopy less than 40 miles outside London, the researchers were able to estimate carbon uptake over a two-year period based on the leaves’ hues.
Forests play a vital role in mitigating the effects of climate change by taking up carbon dioxide and storing it in leaves, stems and roots. But as climate change shifts the timing of seasons, buds are bursting sooner, and ecologists are working to understand how this affects forests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide.