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Penn State to host US DOE regional climate center

Penn State

How energy production and use influences climate and environment will be the focus of Penn State's newly awarded Northeastern Regional Center of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Institute for Climatic Change Research (NICCR).

One of four Regional Centers formed under NICCR, which replaces the National Institute on Global Environmental Change established by Congress in 1989, Penn State's center will include research applicable to the region from Maine to Virginia and as far west as West Virginia. Heading the new Center will be Dr. Kenneth Davis, associate professor of meteorology, with Dr. David Eissenstat, professor of woody plant physiology as associate director.

The other three centers' principal investigators are Southeastern, Robert Jackson, Duke University; Midwestern, Kurt Pregitzer, Michigan Technological University and Western, Bruce Hungate, Northern Arizona University. Dr. Jeff Amthor, DOE, will manage NICCR. The DOE Regional Centers will distribute about $8 million over the next five years through a system of peer review proposals. Each Center will distribute just under $2 million to institutions proposing research that meets the DOE's goals. No institution will receive more than 25 percent of the monies and the host institutions are eligible to compete for the peer reviewed grants. "We intend to support both observational research and manipulative experiments," says Davis.

Some of the DOE highest priorities include experimentally investigating the effects of warming, altered precipitation, elevated carbon dioxide concentration, elevated ozone on terrestrial ecosystems, developing and evaluating models to predict the effects of climate change on regional terrestrial ecosystems and analyzing observations of the exchange of carbon and energy between ecosystems and the atmosphere to improve global climate and carbon cycle models.

While these guidelines apply to all four regions, each region has different ecosystems, population patterns, energy requirements and climate regimes. Within each region, a variety of different landscapes and environments exist.

"Each region has its own special circumstances and problems," says Davis. "The Northeast has a high population density, high concentrations of ozone and large amounts of urbanization, urban forests and abandoned agricultural land. The Northeast is also more susceptible to changes in North Atlantic weather patterns. "

The Centers are looking for research that anticipates what will happen under various climate change scenarios and how the ecosystems will respond to and influence climate change.

"One idea that might focus our research would be to create a transect from the Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Ridge and observe the ecosystems in a multitude of ways," says Davis. "Researchers could add small scale manipulations within that transect, for example, making an experimental field or forest wetter or dryer to anticipate how that system might respond to future climate change."

Close observation and manipulation of this kind aims to show, for example, how the physiology of plants responds to increases in carbon dioxide and how carbon dioxide levels react to changes in the ecosystem. The continuous give and take of climate change and environmental change create a complicated feedback that reacts to such things as increase ozone, temperature, carbon dioxide and changes in forests, grassland and urbanization.

"The projects funded by NICCR will help support our ability to create a variety of computer models that couple ecosystems to climate," says Davis. "This will help us determine, how the Earth system will evolve in response to our nation's energy use in the coming decades."


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