Scientists at the University of Western Sydney have embarked on a large-scale study of how the natural environment would cope with the atmospheric conditions which are expected if if no significant action is taken to reduce carbon emissions.

The centrepiece of the study is six fibreglass and steel ring structures 28 metres high and 25 metres in diameter in native woodland at Richmond, west of Sydney. The structures contain an array of sensors and equipment that will deliver CO2 to the trees within the rings and create an atmosphere where CO2 is at 550 ppm – the level expected within 35 years under a "business as usual" scenario. 

Professor David Ellsworth, who is leading the experiment, said that "there's been nothing like this before, on this scale. We're dealing with native woodland and poorer soils. It's an area with impoverished phosphorus and nutrition in the soil, which is the same as the environment in many areas of the world in the tropics and sub tropics."

According to Professor Ellsworth, previous small-scale studies have indicated that increased levels of CO2 initially aid plant growth but this can last for as little as a few months.

The first results from the study are expected to be published next year.