Climate change scientists turn up the heat in Alaska news
28 June 2010

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are planning a large-scale, long-term eco-system experiment to test the effects of global warming on the icy layers of arctic permafrost.

A DOE study will test the impact of increased temperature on Arctic tundra (photo provided by researcher Stan Wullschleger).

While ORNL researchers have conducted extensive studies on the impact of climate change in temperate regions like East Tennessee, less is known about the impact global warming could have on arctic regions.

"We're beginning to take these lessons learned and start applying them to sensitive and globally important ecosystems, such as the arctic," said Stan Wullschleger of the Environmental Sciences Division. "The arctic regions are important to the topic of global warming because of the large land area they occupy around the world and the layer of permanently frozen soil, known as permafrost."

Wullschleger and a team of architects, engineers and biologists from ORNL and other national laboratories design, simulate using computers and then field test large-scale manipulative experiments that purposely warm a test area in order to evaluate ecosystem response to projected climate conditions.

"Evidence is emerging that the arctic is experiencing a greater degree of warming than the rest of the globe," Wullschleger said. "There is growing concern that this warming is already affecting a wide range of physical and ecological processes in the arctic, including permafrost degradation. Manipulative experiments will help us study these processes and their consequences in great detail."

In the arctic study for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, researchers seek to develop specially designed above-and below-ground warming technologies to heat multiple plots of land about 20 meters in diameter. ORNL researchers hope to eventually have replicated plots with treatments that include heating in combination with elevated carbon dioxide.

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Climate change scientists turn up the heat in Alaska