U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

An Ecosystem-Scale, Experimental System to Study Whole-Ecosystem Warming
Published: February 24, 2017
Posted: April 27, 2017

Diagram of the SPRUCE open-top enclosure for air warming (A) and the infrastructure for deep peat heating (B). [Image courtesy Hanson et al. 2017. “Attaining Whole-Ecosystem Warming Using Air and Deep Soil Heating Methods with an Elevated CO2 Atmosphere,” Biogeosciences 14, 861-83. DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-861-2017]
Aerial view of the SPRUCE experimental site showing 10 open-top enclosures. [Image courtesy Hanson et al. 2017. “Attaining Whole-Ecosystem Warming Using Air and Deep Soil Heating Methods with an Elevated CO2 Atmosphere,” Biogeosciences 14, 861-83. DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-861-2017]

Scientists have developed protocols for continuous warming and elevated CO2 experimental manipulations of tall-stature peatland forests.

The Science
Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have documented an experimental system that combines aboveground and deep-soil heating approaches to provide researchers with a plausible method with which to glimpse future environmental conditions for intact peatland ecosystems.

The Impact
This experimental system enables researchers to study a broad range of organisms (e.g., microbes, moss, shrubs, trees, and insects) and ecosystem processes (e.g., carbon cycle and water use) under realistic field environments for a broad range of alternative environments that may occur in the future.

This study describes methods to achieve and measure both deep-soil heating (0 m to 3 m) and whole-ecosystem warming (WEW) appropriate to the scale of tall-stature, boreal forest peatlands. The methods were developed to provide scientists with a plausible set of ecosystem-warming scenarios within which immediate and longer-term (1 decade) responses of organisms (microbes to trees) and ecosystem functions (carbon, water, and nutrient cycles) could be measured. Elevated carbon dioxide also was incorporated to test for interactions with temperature. The WEW approach was successful in sustaining a wide range of aboveground and belowground temperature treatments (as much as +9 °C) in large 115-m2, open-topped enclosures. The system is functional year round, including warm summer and cold winter periods. The study contrasts the WEW method with prior closely related field-warming approaches and includes a full discussion of factors that must be considered in interpreting experimental results. The WEW method enables observations of future temperature conditions not available in the current observational record, thereby providing a plausible glimpse of future environmental conditions.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover

(PI Contact)
Paul J. Hanson

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and Graduate Fellowship Program (DE-AC05-06OR23100 to A. L. G.).

Hanson, P. J., J. S. Riggs, W. R. Nettles, J. R. Phillips, M. B. Krassovski, L. A. Hook, A. D. Richardson, D. M. Aubrecht, D. M. Ricciuto, J. M. Warren, and C. Barbier. 2017. “Attaining Whole-Ecosystem Warming Using Air and Deep Soil Heating Methods with an Elevated CO2 Atmosphere,” Biogeosciences 14, 861-83. DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-861-2017. (Reference link)

Related Links

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE)

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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