Experiments to discover how forests respond to rising levels of atmospheric CO2 | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Experiments to discover how forests respond to rising levels of atmospheric CO2 Facilities installed in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and in an English temperate forest (photo) will simulate a 50% rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide to assess the impact on ecosystems (photo: BIFoR FACE / University of Birmingham)

Experiments to discover how forests respond to rising levels of atmospheric CO2

February 05, 2020

By André Julião  |  Agência FAPESP – Deep in the jungle north of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas State in Brazil, six clusters of towers will provide around-the-clock monitoring of atmospheric and soil conditions in the world’s largest tropical forest. Some 8,000 km from there, on private land near Birmingham in the United Kingdom, very similar towers are already making similar measurements. The aim of the experiments is to determine how tropical and temperate forests would respond if the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was 50% higher than its current level.

Tanks containing 50 tons of CO2 are connected to the tower arrays in the Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) project run by the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) at the University of Birmingham (UoB).

In AmazonFACE, its sister experiment in Brazil, the gas will be pumped out of 16 towers with a height of 30 m overlooking the treetops in six tracts of forest, while a lone tower in the center equipped with scientific instrumentation performs the measurements. BIFoR FACE has the same layout. The scientists hope the data collected will support decisions on ways of mitigating or even preventing the impacts of rising atmospheric CO2 levels.

“The Amazon Rainforest’s capacity to absorb carbon has fallen 30% since the 1990s. The situation originally forecast for 2050, therefore, will come about far sooner. The Amazon will become carbon neutral or even become a source of CO2 emissions. AmazonFACE is designed to provide an understanding of how the rise in CO2 levels affects the functioning and resilience of the Amazon Rainforest,” said David Montenegro Lapola, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Center for Meteorological and Climate Research Applied to Agriculture (CEPAGRI-UNICAMP) in São Paulo State, Brazil.

Lapola presented the project, which is supported by FAPESP under the aegis of its Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC), during the FAPESP-Birmingham Workshop in December 2019.

“FAPESP has been collaborating with UoB since 2010. This is a moment to celebrate the success of the partnership and to envision ways to obtain new results and opportunities,” Roberto Marcondes Cesar Júnior, a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center Program (RIDC), said in his opening address to the event.

“The idea of the meeting was to exchange information about ongoing projects in different knowledge areas conducted jointly by researchers in São Paulo State and Birmingham. We want new partnerships to be established for research conducted in both countries,” Robin Mason, UoB’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Affairs, told Agência FAPESP.

Lapola is conducting the research in collaboration with Rob Mackenzie, director of BIFoR and Professor of Atmospheric Science in UoB’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. “We’re interested in the response of the forest as a whole, not just a particular leaf or tree but the ecosystem: the plants and the communities of microorganisms and invertebrates,” Mackenzie said.

The BIFoR FACE facility is located in a mature woodland, he explained, with 150-year-old oaks that continue to respond to the rise in CO2 levels. One of the most evident responses is seen in the nitrogen-phosphorus balance.

“Plants convert CO2 into sugar,” he said. “As the supply of CO2 increases, however, they also have to increase their consumption of other nutrients in order to maintain the balance, so they take more phosphorus and nitrogen from the soil.”

The soil in the Amazon is mostly poor in phosphorus, potentially preventing trees from adapting to higher levels of atmospheric CO2, as shown by research led by Lapola.

Diversified collaboration

The toxic potential of nanomaterials is the focus of another project funded by FAPESP and UoB. According to the researchers involved, as the number of nanotechnology-based products on the market increases, the importance of knowing how they affect the environment also increases, not least so that safety standards can be established for future innovations.

“The project has a twofold purpose: analyzing the toxicity of nanomaterials and understanding how changes on their surface modify that toxicity. The amount of data generated is huge, so we’re taking advantage of this connection with Birmingham to annotate the data correctly and publish it in an open-access repository to enable correlations to be made with data from other experiments around the world,” said Diego Stéfani Teodoro Martinez, a researcher at the National Nanotechnology Laboratory (LNNano), run by the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) in Campinas, São Paulo State. Martinez’s research at UoB is supported by a scholarship from FAPESP.

After his scholarship was awarded for research at UoB, Martinez was one of the winners of the call for proposals issued in 2018 under an agreement between FAPESP, UoB and the University of Nottingham. The project will be conducted in collaboration with Iseult Lynch, Professor of Environmental Nanosciences at UoB.

Another project approved in the 2018 call and presented during the event was “MODERN – Modeling of Demand for Rail Networks,” led by Cassiano Augusto Isler, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Engineering School (POLI-USP), in collaboration with Professor Clive Roberts and Marcelo Blumenfeld, an industrial fellow at UoB, both of whom also attended the workshop.

Ester Sabino, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Tropical Medicine Institute (IMT-USP), presented on a project conducted with Nicholas Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics in UoB’s School of Biosciences. One of the winners in the 2016 call, the study included real-time sequencing of the Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.

Joan Duda, Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology at UoB, and Regina Brandão, a researcher at Universidade São Judas Tadeu (USJT) in Brazil, presented on their study of motivation for physical exercise in children and adolescents. The group’s aim is to encourage people to pursue healthier lifestyles.

Brunno Machado de Campos, a research physicist at the University of Campinas’s Neuroimaging Laboratory (LNI-UNICAMP), and Andy Bagshaw, Co-Director of UoB’s Center for Human Brain Health, spoke about their collaborative research on different data processing and interpretation methodologies in neuroscience. Campos leads a project funded by FAPESP.

Claudia Hilsdorf Rocha, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Institute for Language Studies (IEL-UNICAMP), Jorge Vicente Valentim, a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos’s Center for Education and Human Sciences (CECH-UFSCar) in São Paulo State, and Emanuelle Santos, Lecturer in Modern Languages at UoB, presented on research in the field of Portuguese language and literature.


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