One of Oldest Climate Change Experiments Leads to Troubling Conclusion | Washington Post

October 6th, 2017 @

One of the regular complaints of climate change doubters and skeptics is that scientific projections of a dire future are too heavily based on computer simulations, or models, which — they say — rest on a variety of questionable assumptions.

But a major climate change study published Thursday relied not on models but experimental data — a 26-year record of observations, no less — to reach a conclusion perhaps just as worrying. The research, tracking the emissions of carbon from artificially heated plots of a forest in Massachusetts, reinforces fears about the possibility of a climate change “feedback” involving the planet’s soils, one that could pile on top of and substantially worsen the ongoing warming trend triggered by the burning of fossil fuels.

“The study is one of the longest if not the longest climate change ecosystem experiment, beyond the one we are running in our own planet,” said Pep Canadell, an expert on the Earth’s carbon cycle at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. He was not part of the research.

by Chris Mooney

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Alaskan Tundra Research An Inspiration In The Classroom

September 8th, 2017 @

Lawrence School 7th-grade science teacher Celeste Cruse traveled thousands of miles to the Arctic this summer for a hands-on research experience which she plans to bring back to the classroom.

“I want to get these kids enthusiastic about science, to say, ‘You can go in a helicopter and see a herd of caribou,’” Ms. Cruse said.

Ms. Cruse worked with Edward B. Rastetter, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and other scientists on the North Slope of Alaska at the Toolik Field Station. Projects included analyzing soil and plant samples from the tundra and recording the different insect and plant life at certain locations.

by Andrea F. Carter

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Collaborators to Investigate Structure of Microbial Food Webs

August 28th, 2017 @

MBL Senior Scientist Joseph Vallino has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the structure of microbial food webs. The grant is a collaboration with Julie Huber, associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Theoretical studies indicate that microbial food webs may not be highly interconnected, but rather be composed of weakly connected subnetworks.  Preliminary model studies indicate that such a network configuration should give rise to unstable communities that are nevertheless very effective at dissipating available energy.

by Diane Kenney

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Research will Compare Landscape Responses to Climate Variations

August 27th, 2017 @

MBL Senior Scientist Edward Rastetter has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the responses of several natural, land-based ecosystems to variations in climate and landscape disturbances.

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Monitoring Carbon Emissions to Support Coastal Salt Marsh Restoration

July 10th, 2017 @

Coastal wetlands, including salt marshes, mangroves, and sea grass, have a strong capacity to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By storing “blue carbon” in marine plants, organisms, and soil, coastal wetlands can offset human emissions of carbon dioxide from burning gasoline and coal.

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Creation of National Microbiome Initiative

May 13th, 2016 @

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a new, National Microbiome Initiative, and senior scientists Zoe Cardon and David Mark Welch represented the MBL, and Jack Gilbert represented the new UChicago/Argonne/MBL Microbiome Center, at the event in Washington, DC. The National Microbiome Initiative has emerged over the last several years from the growing recognition that microbes are at the core of organismal health and ecosystem services sustaining humanity world-wide.


Photo Credit: Suzanne Thomas and Francois Thomas

Over the past two decades, building on collaboration between John Hobbie (Ecosystems Center) and Mitch Sogin (Bay Paul Center), the MBL has fostered an uncommon synergy, combining in-depth microbial, genomic, and bioinformatic expertise with organismal and ecosystems research. Created by scientists drawn year-round to Woods Hole and the far-flung research sites the MBL spearheads, this growing microbiomes community is now examining microbial activities in ecosystems from deep mid-ocean ridges to the coastal and polar frontlines of global climate change. The power of field and lab experiments is being combined with the clarity of evolutionary, ecological, and thermodynamic theory to identify commonalities uniting microbiome function. These commonalities -- new paradigms – will provide the framework for new solutions to real-world problems, from improving diagnostic tools for ecosystem, organismal, and human health, to developing novel strategies for environmental resilience and remediation.

For more information about the initiative, please see:
MBL's Press Release
White House Briefing
Related Publications:

Blaser M, Cardon ZG, Cho M, Dangl J, Donohue J, Green J, Knight R, Maxon M, Northern T, Pollard K, Brodie E. (2016) Towards a predictive understanding of Earth's microbiomes to address 21st Century challenges. mBio 7(3):e00714-16, doi: 10.1128/mBio.00714-16

Biteen JS, Blainey PC, Cardon ZG, Chun M, Church G, Dorrestein PC, Fraser SE, Gilbert J, Jansson JK, Knight R, Miller JF, Ozcan A, Prather KA, Taha S, Ven den Engh G,  Quake S, Ruby EG, Silver P, Weiss PS, Wong GCL, Wright AT, Xie XS, Young TD (2016) Tools for the Microbiome: Nano and Beyond. ACS Nano, 10:6-37. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b07826

Alivisatos AP et al. (2015) A unified initiative to harness Earth’s microbiomes. Science 350:507-508. (45 authors in Unified Microbiome Initiative Consortium.)

Arctic Scientists Gather at MBL

April 8th, 2016 @

More than 65 ecologists and earth system scientists gathered at MBL April 6 and 7 for the annual Arctic LTER All-Scientists meeting. The Arctic LTER, led by Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist Gus Shaver, investigates the dynamics of the tundra, lake and stream ecosystems on the North Slope of Alaska and is based at Toolik Field Station.

The Arctic LTER All-Scientists meeting attracts a collaborative mix of senior investigators, post docs and graduate students who take advantage of the long-term experiments and ecological datasets that the LTER develops, maintains and makes available to the broader scientific community.

Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist Edward Rastetter explains the planned transition of the Arctic LTER project to new leadership.

Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist Edward Rastetter explains the planned transition of the Arctic LTER project to new leadership.

Later this year, Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist Edward Rastetter will assume leadership of the Arctic LTER project. Ed led the writing of the 2016 LTER renewal and developed a new theoretical framework for the project that will test the open or closed nature of element cycles and species movements in coupled tundra, stream and lake ecosystems. It will also predict how rapid Arctic climate change will alter these cycles and species rearrangements.

Global study of tundra to desert plants shows leaves respond to warming in remarkably similar ways

March 25th, 2016 @

Mary Heskel, MBL Postdoctoral Scientist

Plants from all over the globe respond to temperature changes in remarkably similar ways. That’s the finding of a new study led by MBL Ecosystems Center postdoctoral researcher Mary Heskel and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mary, along with a large team of researchers, measured the respiration rates of vegetation at eighteen remote sites around the world that represented seven different types of plant habitat. It was the most comprehensive study of plant respiration responses to temperature ever conducted.

The team found that the sensitivity of respiration to temperature decreases as plants warm.

“The findings have important consequences for estimating carbon storage in vegetation, and for predicting concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and future surface temperatures," Heskel said.

The finding points to universally conserved controls of temperature responsiveness across the world’s plant life.

The study looked at a wide range of plants growing in contrasting environments, from the arid woodlands of Western Australia, to the deciduous forests of New York, the arctic tundra in Alaska, the boreal forests of Sweden and the tropical forests of Costa Rica and Peru, according to Owen Atkin, Professor at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

“We saw that in the cold, respiration is more sensitive to temperature than previously thought and that the sensitivity of respiration declines at higher temperatures.  Amazingly, these patterns were remarkably uniform across all the habitats and plant types studied,” Atkin said.

Odhran O’Sullivan, a postdoctoral researcher involved in the study who is now at the University of Sheffield, conducted fieldwork at the Arctic LTER site at the Toolik Field Station, which played an important role in defining responses at the cold end of the temperature spectrum experienced by plants.

Mary’s previous work in the Arctic LTER during her PhD improved understanding of the photosynthesis of arctic plants and resulted in several recent papers.

Respiration is the set of metabolic reactions used by plants to make usable energy for growth and cell maintenance. Plants release carbon dioxide during respiration as a by-product of converting sugars into energy.

The finding has important implications for the way that the temperature sensitivity of plants is incorporated into global ecosystem models that predict how ecosystems will respond to climate change. Heskel worked with Atkin at ANU before coming to the Ecosystems Center in November 2014 as a Rosenthal Postdoctoral Scholar.

The reality that respiration is more temperature sensitive that previously assumed and becomes less sensitive as the temperature rises is important for creating accurate climate models.

Plant respiration contributes a large amount of carbon to the atmosphere and plays a key role in the global carbon cycle. Climate models predict how warm the Earth will be later this century. Central to this is the prediction of carbon flows between plants and the atmosphere.

See other media coverage of this article.

IIC Brazil Summer Policy Lab

February 23rd, 2016 @

Aerial photograph of the Xingu Indigenous Reserve in eastern Mato Grosso. The Xingu Reserve is one of the largest protected rainforest areas in the world but extensive croplands in the Reserve’s headwaters threaten water quality and regional climate. Photo credit: Marcia Macedo.

The Ecosystems Center will partner with the University of Chicago’s International Innovation Corps (IIC) in the Harris School of Public Policy to create a Brazil Summer Policy Lab to link Amazon ecosystem science to forest and biodiversity conservation policy.

This summer, eight to ten University of Chicago graduate students will live and work in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia from June to August and collaborate with scientists from MBL and the MBL’s partners in Amazon research at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and the Institute for Amazon Environmental Research (IPAM) to link Amazon science to conservation policy recommendations.

Students will develop policy prescriptions for sustaining forest protected area, reducing fire and protecting streamside riparian forest and water quality using data derived from science conducted by MBL, WHRC, IPAM and other partners in Mato Grosso and other places in the Amazon. Participants will be drawn from the Harris School and across the University.

The program is funded by a USAID grant to the University of Chicago. Policy fellows will spend several days in Woods Hole in late June before they depart for Brazil.

The Ecosystems Center’s Chris Neill and Linda Deegan worked with IIC Director of Operations Phoebe Holtzman and colleagues at WHRC and IPAM to develop the program.

Applications for the program and more information may be found online at:

Download the program brochure (pdf).

Ecosystems Center scientists investigate effects of climate change on important arctic plants

November 17th, 2015 @
Eriophorum vaginatum_cottongrass

Eriophorum vaginatum (cottongrass)

A new project of Ecosystems Center Postdoctoral Scientist Thomas Parker and Associate Scientist Jim Tang investigates the impacts climate change will have on different populations of the dominant arctic sedge, cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum) and whether populations of cottongrass adapted to specific local arctic conditions will survive under climate warming. This work tests whether warm-adapted species will be able to track climate change and move north and how this will affect ecosystem processes such as releases of greenhouse gases and carbon storage in tundra soils. Drs. Parker and Tang collaborate with Dr. Ned Fetcher from Wilkes University and Dr. Michael Moody of the University of Texas at El Paso.

The team worked at Toolik Lake Field station on the North Slope of Alaska during the summer of 2015 and will return in 2016. The team transplants cottongrass to sites farther north and south within the species’ wide range and combines transplants with warming experiments (pictured) to simulate warming over the next century. This NSF-funded project will improve our understanding of future vegetation of a warmer arctic and how this will affect the carbon balance of this globally-important ecosystem.

Tom Parker (right) and Wilkes University student Stephen Forney (left) measure cotton grass abundance and cover at the southern-most experimental site at Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo credit: Darrel Dech, Wilkes University.

Tom Parker (right) and Wilkes University student Stephen Forney (left) measure cottongrass abundance and cover at the southern-most experimental site at Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo credit: Darrel Dech, Wilkes University.

Research assistant Mahalia Clark tags an Eriophorum vaginatum tussock for long-term monitoring. Photo credit: Dr. Joanna Carey, MBL Postdoctoral Scientist.

Research assistant Mahalia Clark tags an Eriophorum vaginatum tussock for long-term monitoring. Photo credit: Dr. Joanna Carey, MBL Postdoctoral Scientist.

Researchers set up open top chambers to increase air temperature over potentially vulnerable cottongrass at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. This plant currently covers vast expenses of tundra in northern Alaska.

Researchers set up open top chambers to increase air temperature over potentially vulnerable cottongrass at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. This plant currently covers vast expenses of tundra in northern Alaska.

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