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ULM Unveils New Carbon Flux Research Tower to Study Climate Change

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is unveiling a new breakthrough research tool of their own. And it's sitting in the middle of the woods!
ULM’s newest addition to its biological research arsenal—The ULM Carbon Flux Tower. The 120-foot structure is the first of its kind in Louisiana, and is capable of continuously monitoring carbon dioxide fluctuation in large areas. Multiple sensors are positioned on the tower and on the ground to allow for continuous monitoring of several variables such as solar radiation, photosynthetically active radiations, air temperature, rainfall, rain intensity, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, and heat fluctuation. With the tower fully functional, teachers from areas schools can use the tower to educate their students about the ways in which ecosystem carbon balance is monitored. Students and teachers will also be able to visit the Plant Ecology Lab at ULM to visualize the data collected by the ULM tower and the other 96 “active” towers spread across the country. (Terrance Armstard/ULM Photo Services, University of Louisiana at Monroe)
ULM’s newest addition to its biological research arsenal—The ULM Carbon Flux Tower. The 120-foot structure is the first of its kind in Louisiana, and is capable of continuously monitoring carbon dioxide fluctuation in large areas. Multiple sensors are positioned on the tower and on the ground to allow for continuous monitoring of several variables such as solar radiation, photosynthetically active radiations, air temperature, rainfall, rain intensity, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, and heat fluctuation. With the tower fully functional, teachers from areas schools can use the tower to educate their students about the ways in which ecosystem carbon balance is monitored. Students and teachers will also be able to visit the Plant Ecology Lab at ULM to visualize the data collected by the ULM tower and the other 96 “active” towers spread across the country. (Terrance Armstard/ULM Photo Services, University of Louisiana at Monroe)
MONROE (ULM, KTVE/KARD) -- The University of Louisiana at Monroe is unveiling a new breakthrough research tool of their own. And it's sitting in the middle of the woods!

Researchers there say the climate is changing.

"And we really need to know who is measuring it, how is it being measured," said Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee, a ULM Ecology Associate Professor.

So that's where ULM's new Carbon Flux Tower comes in. It's capable of continuously monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations in a large area.

Towering over the trees in the middle of the Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area, the structure helps ULM researchers learn more about climate phenomenons like global warming.

"Everyone has heard so much about climate change and about global warming, and this is going to give us a lot of information about what that means at the local level," said Dr. Michael Camille, the ULM Arts and Sciences Dean.

Researchers at ULM say the 120-foot tower is putting them on the map across the country. It's the only research tower of it's kind in Louisiana. ULM researchers had been working at getting the tower for years. Bhattacharjee and others in his department wrote up a grant and received the money to make it happen. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries helped clear some of the land for the tower.

“Due to almost continuous forest cover and no major interruptions by artificial structures, the ‘fetch’ of the ULM tower is excellent, about 2.5 miles across,” said Bhattacharjee. “The tower is situated close to the center of the management area and is amid large bottomland hardwood trees. The location of the tower is excellent since it has a large undisturbed ‘fetch,’ which is an area of forest over which the measurements made by instruments on the tower are applicable."

The tower is packed with sensors and equipment to track variables within the two-miles of forest surrounding it -- including an infrared gas analyzer, a mini computer, and even a rod measuring how thirsty the forest is.

"Most students in classrooms these days can only see it in books, if that," said Bhattacharjee. "There are structures that actually measure how the climate is changing."

The gadgets also track solar radiation, rainfall, and heat fluctuation. This data feeds straight into ULM's Plant Ecology Lab.

"It's literally a living lab, you can come here and go to ULM to look at the data," said Bhattacharjee, who added that teachers in the region can bring students to the tower to teach them how the ecosystem carbon balance works in nature.

Researchers say the tree growth around this area has a very unique ecosystem because it's made up of what's called a bottomland hardwood forest. This tower is the only one sitting in such a forest.

"No body had a tower set up on a bottomland hardwood forest. So, this really makes our tower almost one of a kind in the country, if you will," said Bhattacharjee. "There are scientists studying carbon flux in other kinds of forests, so there was almost a loophole or missing data. The ULM tower actually plugs that gap."

ULM graduate student Jared Streeter of Bastrop, a plant ecology lab member, is currently working with Bhattacharjee on the project. He is conducting vegetation surveys in the area using the protocol set forth by Terrestrial Carbon Observation Panel of the Global Terrestrial Observing System Program, to complement data from the tower.
“Since this is the only tower in the region, including adjoining states of Mississippi and Arkansas, ULM will be in a position to allow scientists from various institutes of higher education to collaborate and provide a platform for carrying out cutting-edge research,” said Bhattacharjee.

Even  Standford and Harvard universities have towers like the one in Ouachita Parish. ULM researchers say they hope to share this tool with other schools in the south for a platform of collaborative research.

"We really are among the few that are doing this, so we're standing out," said Camille.

Bhattacharjee plans to add another important sensor on the tower that will measure methane, a potent greenhouse gas associated with wetland areas.

“The future of C-flux research at ULM is great and this is just the beginning,” he said. “Methane sensors that can be deployed on remote towers like this are a recent invention. Currently, we know very little about the amount of methane that these bottomlands generate during periods of the year when the ground is totally flooded. By quantifying the amount of methane along with carbon dioxide, we can begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and get a much better idea on the functioning of these unique eco systems.”
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