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Research at a high level


An extensive research investment into climate monitoring, ICOS, is to map greenhouse gases across Europe. The Swedish part of the project was recently inaugurated. Project manager Anders Lindroth, Professor of Physical Geography, does not shy away from the more unusual challenges and is happy to climb a hundred metres straight up a high mast when climate monitoring equipment needs adjusting.

In an old spruce and pine forest north of Uppsala, the Norunda mast reaches over a hundred metres towards the sky. At the top of the mast is a newly installed atmospheric station which is to keep track of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air. Considerably further down on the mast, just over the tree tops at a height of 35 metres, another piece of equipment, a so-called ecosystem station, serves to gather data on a more local level.

Down at the foot of the mast, the centuries-old tree trunks are interspersed with large blocks of stone scattered on the ground. Moss grows over everything. We already know that forest and other natural environments can act as carbon sinks, i.e. that plants and land can absorb and store carbon from greenhouse gases in the air. But nature can also act as a source of carbon, releasing carbon into the air. With the help of the monitoring equipment in the ICOS project, researchers want to study this flow of carbon between nature and the air around it in a detailed manner, both absorption and emission. This is the kind of data to be collected by the ecosystem station at a height of 35 metres.

“It is important to know how much the ecosystem’s carbon balance varies between different locations and different years”, says Anders Lindroth.

In contrast, the measurements in the atmospheric station at a height of one hundred metres have a different function; they will map the extent of the greenhouse gases at the regional level. At such a great height, the concentration of greenhouse gases does not reflect local conditions, providing instead a comprehensive picture for an area of approximately 400 square kilometres. These measurements can be used to monitor how much greenhouse gas there is in the air in total, considering both human emissions and nature’s own exchange.

In the practical work with the monitoring equipment, it is a clear advantage not to be afraid of heights. Anders Lindroth seems suitably immune to this complaint. With some satisfaction, he observes that he has climbed the mast himself many times. Obviously you wear a harness connected to a safety line when doing so, he points out.

“After about twenty to thirty metres of climbing I tend to get a bit tired, so I stop to catch my breath”, says Anders Lindroth cheerfully, before adding that he has done less climbing as he got older and that his younger colleagues now get to do the heavy work.

In Sweden, the ICOS consists of six mast locations spread over the whole country, from Perstorp in Skåne to Abisko in the north. The six locations represent different types of environment: old-growth coniferous forest, young and highly reproductive coniferous forest, agricultural land, wetlands. All six locations are to be equipped with ecosystems stations, and three locations are to have high masts with atmospheric stations as well. The mast outside Perstorp is not yet in place, however.

The Swedish measuring stations are in turn part of a European network in which seventeen countries are currently taking part. One of the main points of the entire effort is that the measurements in all the countries and in all the locations will be done according to the same standards so that the results can be compared and even compiled like the pieces of a puzzle to form a common picture. This will enable mapping of the carbon balance in different areas all over Europe. The maps can then show which regions act as overall carbon sinks or carbon sources, i.e. which regions respectively decrease and increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air.

“The aim of ICOS is to map carbon sinks and carbon sources on a weekly basis, on a scale down to ten kilometres, so much better than what has been possible until now”, says Anders Lindroth.

The results of the measurements will be freely accessible to both the research community and wider society via an internet portal. The analyses and conclusions are to be available for use by politicians, public authorities, lobby groups, business and industry and the general public. The monitoring stations can also function as hosts for other, delimited research projects within fields such as meteorology, biodiversity, land and soil studies, nitrogen deposition and hydrology.

More about ICOS
ICOS is an acronym for Integrated Carbon Observation System. The project is a European research investment that consists of a large number of monitoring stations with the overall aim of mapping the greenhouses gases in the air. The Swedish ICOS is a collaboration between Lund University, Gothenburg University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Abisko scientific station (under the management of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat) and Stockholm University.


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