Scientists Turn Their Heaters on Alaska

Climate scientists are turning the heat up on Alaska in a hope to test the effects of global warming on the region.

American’s Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have already conducted extensive studies on the impact of climate change on temperate regions such as East Tennessee. But less is known about how the Arctic will respond to climate change, which is where their focus is now being turned.

“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.”

Questions have been asked regarding whether carbon that has been stored for ages in the permafrost of the Arctic will be released as the soil warms, which could have significant consequences for our planet’s climate.

“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.”

Researchers at the ORNL researchers are designing heating systems that will heat multiple plots of land from above and below ground in an attempt to mimic the changes occurring in the Arctic. Their goal is to create individual plots with heating that represents specific increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“The way we design and arrange the above- and below-ground heaters will allow us to warm the air and soil in a manner representing future conditions and then study the consequences of that warming,” Wullschleger said.

The ORNL team is also hoping to start holding workshops run in collaboration with the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska in a hope to involve the rest of the scientific community in the experiments. “That will be a major undertaking, and it will involve the support of the larger scientific community. We want to ensure, right from the beginning, that others are able to contribute to the development of this grand activity,” Wullschleger said.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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