Chapman University is the recipient of a nearly $1.5 million Department of Energy (DoE) grant as part of a larger DoE project designed to understand climate change impacts in peatland ecosystems.
The principal investigator from Chapman University on the project is Jason Keller, Ph.D., associate professor of Life and Environmental Sciences. The project is called The Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Climate and Environmental Change Experiment, or SPRUCE, and is located at a peat bog in northern Minnesota. The grant allows Chapman researchers to participate in the SPRUCE project by investigating the controls of the production and release of the greenhouse gas methane in this ecosystem. Other universities included in the grant are the University of Oregon and Purdue University.
Ten open-top octagonal chambers (each 24 feet high and 36 feet in diameter) are located at the site. Boardwalks connect the chambers allowing scientists to work intimately with the peat bog taking samples and measurements. The chambers are warmed anywhere from zero to plus 9 degrees Celsius at both the surface and through the entire peat profile (about six feet below the soils surface). Additionally, half of the chambers receive ambient (normal) levels of carbon dioxide and the other half receive elevated (twice current levels) of carbon dioxide, or levels that scientists believe we might expect by the end of this century. In this environment, Dr. Keller and his colleagues on the project look at what happens to methane production in response to these simulations.
"Each chamber represents a different future climate scenario, so each chamber represents a different possible future, said Jason Keller, Ph.D., associate professor of Life and Environmental Sciences at Chapman University, and lead researcher on the grant." "There is only one of these sites in the world and there is likely only going to be one of these in the world."
Peatlands are wetlands and they store massive amounts of carbon in their soils -- about 60-times the amount of carbon that is released annually from fossil fuel burning. One-third of all the soil carbon in the world is in peatland ecosystems even though they cover only 3 percent of the terrestrial land surface.
"Peatlands are arguably the most important ecosystems in the global carbon cycle," said Dr. Keller. "They store all of this carbon -- it's been in there for 10,000 years or so -- and if it were released there would be major implications for climate change because it can be released as carbon dioxide which is a greenhouse gas or it can be released as methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas. The stability of these peatlands has big implications for the global climate."
According to SPRUCE, "the ultimate goal is to determine the levels of warming at which ecosystems will reach a critical change in temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the future that would push them into a new state."
More information on the SPRUCE project can be found at http://mnspruce.