News Release

Story tips: Getting to the root, empowering savings potential and hotter urban hydrology

Peer-Reviewed Publication

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Climate – Getting to the root

image: Fine roots from a larch tree peek out from a pile of peat excavated from an experimental warming plot in the SPRUCE experiment in Northern Minnesota. view more 

Credit: Colleen Iversen/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Climate – Getting to the root

New data hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory is helping scientists around the world understand the secret lives of plant roots as well as their impact on the global carbon cycle and climate change.

The Fine Root Ecology Database, or FRED 3.0, brings together 150,000 observations of root anatomy and function from a variety of ecosystems. These root traits are informing Earth system models that predict the future of the planet.

“These fine roots are narrower than the cord that connects your ear buds to your computer,” ORNL’s Colleen Iversen said. “They’re tiny but mighty. They are important for plant water and nutrient uptake and contribute disproportionately to the accumulation of carbon in the soil, which stores twice as much carbon as the atmosphere.”

FRED 3.0 offers curated, searchable data, providing a picture of root trait variation across biomes and identifying the gaps where more data are needed.

Listen to ORNL’s podcast “The Sound of Science” to learn more about FRED.

Media contact: Kim Askey, 865.576.2841,


Caption: Tree and shrub roots and fungal hyphae captured by an automated minirhizotron camera buried in an experimental warming plot in the SPRUCE experiment in Northern Minnesota. Credit: Joanne Childs/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Caption: Fine roots from a larch tree peek out from a pile of peat excavated from an experimental warming plot in the SPRUCE experiment in Northern Minnesota. Credit: Colleen Iversen/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Buildings – Empowering savings potential

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers demonstrated that cooling cost savings could be achieved with a 3D printed concrete smart wall following a three-month field test.

The team used data from the 5-foot by 8-foot wall installed in an ORNL conference room and predictive modeling to estimate performance in the Southeastern United States climate zone during summer months. The modeling indicated a full deployment would show an 8% savings with the potential to go higher.

Embedded with pipes that carry chilled water to lower its temperature, the wall transfers coolness stored within to the occupied space when needed. Data gathered included energy efficiency, costs, resilience and overall performance in reducing electricity demand without compromising the occupant’s comfort.

“Preliminary analysis shows this prototype wall has a potential to save energy and reduce peak demand,” ORNL’s Piljae Im said. “Future modeling analysis will include increasing the wall’s cooling capacity and analyzing savings potential in different climate zones.”

Media contact: Jennifer Burke, 865.414.6835,


Caption: The 3D printed concrete smart wall installed at ORNL over the summer was monitored for energy efficiency, with preliminary results showing a minimum of 8% cost savings. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Environment – Hotter urban hydrology

Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked with Colorado State University to simulate how a warming climate may affect urban hydrological systems in the United States.

ORNL’s Shih-Chieh Kao calibrated the University of Washington’s hydrological model to a higher resolution for project use by CSU. Researchers then modeled future precipitation scenarios to analyze possible climate conditions for 14 U.S. greater urban areas called “megaregions.”

Their published results show that Los Angeles and San Francisco may be relatively less arid than other megaregions as warming continues. Although temperatures in these two areas will rise, precipitation will likely also increase. However, Houston may become more arid than other megaregions, which could lead to constrained water resources.

“When we’re looking into the future, how to better manage water resources is a common challenge around the world,” Kao said. “For most of the megaregions, there’s a need to look into ways to better use our water so that we are less water dependent.” – Alexandra DeMarco

Media contact: Sara Shoemaker, 865.576.9219,


Caption: Researchers at Colorado State University and ORNL evaluated 14 urban megaregions to simulate the effects of climate change on water resources. Credit: CSU/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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