Scientists To Study Effects Of Global Warming On Wetlands

September 03, 1997

HOUGHTON, MI- Researchers from Michigan Technological University, Notre Dame, and the University of Minnesota have embarked on a joint effort to determine how wetland ecosystems respond to global warming.

"We'll be working at a site north of Duluth, Minnesota, where we've designed experiments to simulate the effect of global warming on natural bogs and fens," said Dr. Jiquan Chen of Michigan Tech's School of Forestry and Wood Products. "We want to see how increased temperatures and moisture affect ecosystem productivity and biodiversity."

The major objective of the study is to examine the interactions between plant community composition and dynamics, whole-ecosystem carbon exchange, and the radiative and thermal energy balance of northern peatlands under a changing climate.

"The central hypothesis," said Chen, "is that climate caused heat loading and water-table depth will determine plant community and ecosystem structure and function in peatlands, which in turn will have a feedback effect on the energy budget of the system. Thus, the same amount of heat applied to two different ecosystems won't necessarily lead to similar ecosystem temperatures. There is a degree of biotic control over temperature, and this project will determine the mechanisms and quantitative effects of that phenomenon. In turn, temperature does have a strong effect on many ecosystem processes."

Chen said previous studies have raised the possibility that global warming might result in a lack of physical energy for natural ecosystems and that species richness abundance could change depending on how different species react to higher temperatures and moisture. "This could mean changes in the endangered species list," he said.

On the other hand, architectural changes in the plant community canopy caused by global warming might significantly affect the energy budget, depending on an ecosystem's resilience to changing conditions, according to Chen. He said Michigan Tech's role will be to investigate the linkage between various factors such as the amount of solar radiation reflected back into the air and its effect on carbon production and net ecosystem productivity.

"Right now scientists don't know what's happening with the energy budget of ecosystems," said Chen. "If we can tell whether the energy budget is increasing or decreasing, it will make our lives much easier. Einstein said energy equals mass, so if we know the energy in an ecosystem, we should be able to determine its biomass. So we should be able to determine whether productivity is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable by measuring temperature and moisture in the ecosystem."

Chen said that studying the effects of global warming in bogs and fens is important because peat is a major source of fuel and fertilizer in Canada and parts of Europe. "If we can predict peat productivity for the next 50 years, that will be a significant factor for consumers," he said.

The project is being supported by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to the three participating universities. Of that amount, $255,384 will go to Michigan Tech, with the University contributing an additional $99,775 in matching funds.

For further information, contact Jiquan Chen at 906-487-3432 or e-mail:

Michigan Technological University

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