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

BER Research Highlights

A Zero Power Warming Chamber for Investigating Plant Responses to Rising Temperature
Published: September 19, 2017
Posted: November 21, 2017

Development, evaluation, and performance of an improved technique for passively warming plants and ecosystems.

The Science
Advances in understanding and model representation of plant and ecosystem responses to rising temperature have typically required temperature manipulation of research plots. In remote or logistically challenging locations, passive warming using solar radiation is often the only viable approach for temperature manipulation. However, current passive warming approaches are only able to elevate mean daily air temperature by about 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have developed an alternative approach to passive warming that uses modulated venting to allow additional warming. The system requires no electrical power for fully autonomous operation. When tested in our research environment, the coastal tundra of northern Alaska, our chambers were able to double the warming achieved by existing approaches.

The Impact
This technical advance allows researchers to study the effect of greater temperature elevations than previously possible using passive (solar radiation) warming. This is particularly relevant for remote and challenging environments, such as the Arctic, that are projected to experience warming that exceeds the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit of current technology by the middle of the century.

Our Zero Power Warming (ZPW) chamber requires no electrical power for fully autonomous operation. It uses a novel system of internal and external heat exchangers that allow differential actuation of pistons in coupled cylinders to control chamber venting. This enables the ZPW chamber venting to respond to the difference between the external and internal air temperatures, thereby increasing the potential for warming and eliminating the risk of overheating. During the thaw season on the coastal tundra of northern Alaska our ZPW chamber was able to elevate the mean daily air temperature 2.6 °C above ambient, double the warming achieved by an adjacent passively warmed control chamber that lacked our hydraulic system. We describe the construction, evaluation and performance of our ZPW chamber and discuss the impact of potential artefacts associated with the design and its operation on the Arctic tundra. The approach we describe is highly flexible and tunable enabling customization for use in many different environments where significantly greater temperature manipulation than that possible with existing passive warming approaches is desired.


Daniel Stover
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289)

(PI Contact)
Alistair Rogers
Brookhaven National Laboratory
arogers@bnl.gov (631-344-2948)

This work was supported by the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project that is supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy, Office of Science.

Lewin, K.F., A. McMahon, K.S. Ely, S.P. Serbin, A. Rogers. 2017. “A Zero Power Warming Chamber for Investigating Plant Responses to Rising Temperature,” Biogeosciences, 14, 4071-4083. DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-4071-2017.

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)

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


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