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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Research tower granted funding

Environmental research in Morgan Monroe State Forest will continue through August 2015 thanks to a grant from the United States Department of Energy.

There’s a 150-foot tall metal tower in the forest that measures the effects of climate change in the forest, and it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain, said Kim Novick, assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The grant is worth $562,000.

IU researchers hope for a contract renewal after the money is gone, Novick said.
The tower is all about micrometeorology, she said.

Water and carbon dioxide levels in the air are measured by small instruments that cover the tower. From this data, the tower is able to calculate the amount of photosynthesis in the area.

Novick said it’s especially important to collect this data when droughts have become all too common.

“Over the course of the past four to five years, we’ve noticed a trend towards increasingly dry conditions,” she said. “In particular, last year, we experienced a very severe drought event that significantly reduced photosynthesis in the middle of the growing season.”

The project’s site manager and recent SPEA graduate Tyler Roman says the dry conditions will end up killing trees, species by species.

“Our work in the forest is crucial for our understanding of nutrient cycling in natural systems,” Roman said. “In particular, our research will be important in understanding changes in forest dynamics with increasing global carbon dioxide and temperature.”

This means no food for plants and less oxygen in the air. Plants die and animals have less to eat. These climate changes hurt the forest’s entire ecosystem.

Novick said although warmer weather can be a positive thing for the forest because it elongates the time it has to grow, excessive dryness can cancel out those positive effects.

“Tree species have different adaptations to dealing with climatic variation, so we would likely see a change in the species composition of our forests and certain species may not be able to survive in Indiana,” he said.

Roman’s job involves maintenance on the tower, but he also does work the tower cannot.

He rides to the top of the tree canopy on a boom lift to take measurements, and he measures perspiration in the soil.

He said that’s the easy part. Hardware malfunction on the tower is where things get tricky.

“That’s the most difficult part of my job, which usually results in having to do quite a bit of troubleshooting,” he said. “This means that I often have to think on the fly and come up with ways to determine which aspect of the data collection system is not working correctly.”

He said the tower has seen many updates since it was founded in 1998, so the systems have become complex.

“Usually we can tell that something is wrong with a particular instrument, but it isn’t always obvious what is causing the problem,” he said.

He said a solution hasn’t been found, but the research points the way to options.
“There isn’t really an answer in terms of how to fix these problems, but our research can be key in understanding how to cope with it,” Roman said.

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Ashley Jenkins on Twitter

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