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News and events

News & events

Carbon Flux Tower Installed And Readying For Action

August 19, 2015

Dr. Chris Gough, Dr. Scott Neubauer and their team of researchers, including ILS Ph.D. student Ellen Stuart-Haentjens, are closing in on a long-anticipated installation of an eddy covariance flux system, located in the wetland restoration area of Kimages Creek at the Rice Rivers Center. By later this fall, instrumentation will be in place and data will be collected to contribute to studies that, among other applications, have implications for climate change.

A byproduct of fossil-based energy production is carbon dioxide, which is rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere and is implicated in contemporary climate change. Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth and play a crucial role in offsetting carbon dioxide emissions by absorbing and storing carbon in plant biomass and soils. In the coastal zone, wetlands continually form new soil as they grow vertically to keep up with steadily rising sea levels; many coastal wetlands have been storing significant amounts of carbon for hundreds to thousands of years. Indeed, persistent and high rates of wetland carbon sequestration have motivated current “blue carbon” initiatives that are promoting the conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands. One important caveat is that wetland emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, can offset some of their carbon sequestration functions. Quantifying and understanding what regulates carbon uptake and the simultaneous exchange of multiple greenhouse gases between wetlands and the atmosphere is essential to advancing science and developing effective management policies aimed at offsetting human-derived carbon emissions. The eddy covariance flux system employed here offers a powerful platform for quantifying carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor fluxes exchanged with the atmosphere at the ecosystem scale, providing novel, real-time data for a restored wetland. Data products will contribute to course instruction, undergraduate and graduate research, and high-profile collaborative publications with VCU and international investigators. In the longer term, results from the study will inform land management and climate change policies that aim to offset human-derived greenhouse gas emissions through ecosystem management.

One thing that makes the Rice Rivers Center’s flux tower especially important is its unique location in a restored freshwater tidal wetland, an underrepresented ecosystem in the global network of towers measuring carbon sequestration and methane emissions. In other words, not much is known yet about this ecosystem’s ability to sequester — or perhaps emit — greenhouse gases. So, novel results from this location will be of high interest to ecologists and climate modelers.

An outcome of this installation will be VCU Rice Rivers Center’s partnership in an international network, FLUXNET, of meteorological tower sites that measure carbon sequestration and emissions in an array of ecosystems and climates, from wetlands to upland forests.  FLUXNET is a global “network of regional networks” that provides infrastructure to compile, archive and distribute data for the scientific community, land managers, and policy makers. It works to ensure that different flux networks are calibrated to facilitate comparison between sites, and it provides a forum for the distribution of knowledge and data between scientists.

As of April 2014, there are over 683 tower sites in continuous long-term operation. Researchers, including those at Rice Rivers Center, collect complementary data on site vegetation, soil, trace gas fluxes, hydrology, and meteorological characteristics at the tower sites. The VCU Rice Rivers Center looks forward to joining this international collaboration in the coming year, and partnering with other field stations globally to understand how the Earth’s ecosystems affect global climate.


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