http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/science/a-unique-ecosystem-scale-study-will-decide-fate-of-boreal-forests/article/531028

A unique ecosystem-scale study will decide fate of boreal forests

Posted Sep 3, 2018 by Karen Graham
A recent study found that large swaths of Canada's environmentally important boreal forest are at risk of disappearing by the end of the century as a result of climate change.
The SPRUCE Experiment
The SPRUCE Experiment
Dept. of Energy/ORNL
Canada's Boreal forest comprises about one-third of a band of green in the Northern Hemisphere that reaches across North America, Europe, and Asia, mostly north of the 50th parallel. Canada's boreal forests cover almost 60 percent of the country’s land area.
And this band of green, consisting of a matrix of forest, wetlands, and waters is Canada's biggest defense against climate change, being a gigantic carbon sponge, pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to fuel photosynthesis. It is vital that we understand the impact of climate change on the peatlands carbon cycle - and for this reason, a special long-term study has been undertaken.
An aerial view of the USDA Forest Service’s Marcell Experimental Forest in northern Minnesota.
An aerial view of the USDA Forest Service’s Marcell Experimental Forest in northern Minnesota.
Dept. of Energy/ORNL
The SPRUCE experiment
The SPRUCE experiment is a massive environmental research project based out of Minnesota's Oakridge National Labs, and is the primary component of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Scientific Focus Area of ORNL's Climate Change Program,
SPRUCE is located at the southern margin of the USDA Forest Service’s Marcell Experimental Forest (MEF), a boreal peatland forest in northern Minnesota. The study is focusing on the Picea mariana [black spruce] in the Sphagnum Spp. bog forest because it is particularly vulnerable to climate change,
The 8.1 hectare SPRUCE research site can be found in the black spruce bog forest 40 kilometres north...
The 8.1 hectare SPRUCE research site can be found in the black spruce bog forest 40 kilometres north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Dept. of Energy/ORNL
Responses to warming and interactions with increased atmospheric CO2 concentration are anticipated to have important feedbacks on the atmosphere and climate, because of the high carbon stocks harbored by this type of ecosystem.
To look at images of the site, you might think of it as "other-worldly," after seeing the 10 huge glass enclosures spread around the forest. Professor Danielle Way, a plant biologist at Western University describes MEF as a climate time machine.
The purpose of the enclosures is to simulate climate conditions a century from now, Half the enclosures remain at current climate conditions, but the other half is being tested at five different temperatures and two elevated levels of carbon dioxide.
The experiment consists of ten open-top  glass chambers containing 40 to 50 year-old trees  small pl...
The experiment consists of ten open-top, glass chambers containing 40 to 50 year-old trees, small plants and peatland soil.
Dept. of Energy/ORNL
This will give researchers a chance to explore the effects of warmer air and soil on a carbon-rich bog dominated by black spruce and tamarack trees, shrubs, and sphagnum moss. Similar forests are prevalent in northern latitudes, covering much of Canada, northern Europe, and Russia.
"You can look at everything from what does current vegetation look like, all the way up to what would a plus-nine-degrees-Celsius, high-CO2 world looks like," Way explained, according to CBC News.
The importance of the SPRUCE experiment
The success of the project is critical to Canada and the U.S. meeting our climate objectives going forward. "We basically are counting on, partly on our forests to help meet our requirements to compensate for the CO2 that we're emitting," Way said.
Professor Danielle Way (left)  a plant biologist at Western University  seen working onsite in Minne...
Professor Danielle Way (left), a plant biologist at Western University, seen working onsite in Minnesota.
Dept. of Energy/ORNL
Right now nearly 11 percent of the planet's carbon is locked up in the forest, or about 208 billion tons. Boreal trees filter massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air, most of it in the wood of living trees and the in the dead wood and fibers stored in the peat bogs.
"It doesn't decay very fast because it's cold. And so, you lock up a lot of carbon in the landscape," Way said. But with global warming extending warming periods, including bringing earlier spring seasons and later autumn seasons, this may have implications for forests around the world.
"Declines in its performance and its growth, in its ability to hold carbon and sequester carbon, could really mean big changes in our ability to absorb carbon out of the atmosphere," Way said.
In the end, the SPRUCE experiment will follow these trees through 20 years of their lives, and there will be more insights to report as scientists learn firsthand what is happening to our forests as climate change continues to warm our planet.