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Understanding the Carbon Cycle in Terrestrial and Marine Ecosystems with Field-Based Measurements Using a Revolutionary Isotopic Technique

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Funding Year: 2010

Research Areas: Climate

Regions: North America

The response of the Earths carbon cycle to humaninduced climate change is a pressing environmental issue. Numerous scientists have focused on the many facets of the carbon cycle. Stable carbon isotope analysis is a key method for quantifying the cycle. At present, however carbon cycle bio-geochemists are limited by an inability to make onsite measurements.

The only available methods are complex and delicate instruments unsuited for field deployment. They can be the size of a small refrigerator, weigh about 1,000 pounds and cost more than $250,000. Operating costs can be high too, owing to the large salaries of highly skilled personnel required.

The EVP research team will design a fast, simple and portable spectrometer using a novel technology called Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometry (CRDS). This device will measure stable carbon isotopes in the field to understand how climate and erosion affect the transport of carbon in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Researchers will test the system in rivers of the Washington Cascades region, the Pacific Ocean and the kelp forest of Monterey Bay. Once the CRDS system is fully developed, it will be deployed to Arctic rivers, motivated by the knowledge that soil respiration rates and methane release from permafrost are likely to change drastically as the Arctic warms.

If successful, the project will transform how scientists measure carbon cycle dynamics, and could revolutionize field studies in the earth sciences.

Learn more about the Environmental Venture Projects grant program and other funded projects.

Principal Investigators:

Richard Zare, Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science and Professor, by courtesy, of Physics

Page Chamberlain, Professor of Geological Sciences

Joe Berry

Rob Dunbar, W.M. Keck Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment