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Juan José Irigoyen Iparrea, Professor and researcher of the group of Stress in Plants of the department of Environmental Biology of the University of Navarra.
How do plants respond to climate change?
Human action on the environment has been particularly intense in recent years due to the use of fossil fuels - such as coal and oil - and land use change, linked to deforestation to create new land for crops or mining.
All this has caused an alteration in the composition of the atmosphere, particularly affecting various greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which stimulate the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, leading to a warming of the earth's surface.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is meeting today in Paris, predicts that by the end of the century, or even earlier, the concentration of CO2 on the planet will rise to 700 ppm, almost double the current concentration (400 ppm). At the same time, the temperature could rise by average by 4 to 6°C, which would affect life, especially plants: crops and natural vegetation.
Knowing the effect that climate change will have on the planet's vegetation and on crops is of great importance for society challenge . Our plant stress group , from department at Environmental Biology, has been working for 20 years on the effects of climate change on some plants. To this end, we have used specific facilities, such as chamber greenhouses, where we can simulate the increase in temperature or the increase in CO2 concentration individually or jointly, and learn how this will alter the growth of the cultivated plant.
We are currently working with grapevine plants, in which we have already observed that the increase in temperature accelerates the unbalanced ripening of the grapes, which leads to the production of inferior quality wines. Our programs of study confirms, as do other analyses carried out in numerous winegrowing areas around the world, that vine ripening is accelerated by a 4° increase in temperature, and that grapes that ripen in an accelerated manner have a lower quality than that observed at more moderate temperatures.
Grapes with accelerated ripening have an adequate concentration of sugars, but the color, which is another aspect to be taken into account in the ripening of grapes, is deficient or incomplete, and consequently the wine produced is of inferior quality.
The goal of these programs of study is to understand the process of accelerated grapevine ripening in order to experiment with possible solutions to mitigate the negative effect of climate change. For example, through the use of vine varieties with longer growing cycles.