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2015 | Climate Mitigation & Biofuels

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FACULTY SEED GRANT | Global Change Center

Climate mitigation from biofuels: Is loblolly or switchgrass more beneficial in the southeast?

  • Dr. Quinn Thomas, Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
  • Dr. John E. Barrett, Biological Sciences
  • Dr. Thomas O’Halloran, Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation

Ecosystems provide climate regulation services by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and altering the energy balance of the Earth. Therefore, decisions to plant a forest or clear land for agriculture can influence climate in ways that are currently uncertain. Our study uses high frequency, state-of-the-art, measurement techniques to study the carbon and energy cycling in two ecosystems commonly used for bioenergy (loblolly pines forests and switchgrass fields).
This Global Change Center seed grant supports the development of a research site that measures carbon and energy in a switchgrass field. By pairing with an existing loblolly pine plantation research site, we can now better understand the implications of land management decisions on local, region, and global climate. Our research is at the interface of ecosystem science and climate science, as reflected by our cross-discplinary team of biogeochemistists, meteorologists, ecosystem modelers, and remote sensing scientists at Virginia Tech.
The project is a collaboration with Sweet Briar College, an undergraduate, women-only, institution in Virginia.


UPDATE:  April 25, 2016- The Switchgrass tower at Sweet Briar has a new Phenocam!

The Switchgrass Phenocam is part of a global network of cameras designed to study how the timing of ecological events, like spring leaf out, is influenced by global change.  Our Phenocam is a basic web camera that takes a photo every 30 minutes and shares it with the Phenocam network.  Each photo is analyzed for ‘greenness’, which is a proxy for how active the plants are in the image.  Examining the greenness over time shows us how the ecosystem responds seasonally to the environment.

See the images from our Switchgrass Phenocam here:

Related stories:
Land-atmosphere research station expands capacity to study forests
Quinn Thomas leads a $2.6 million USDA project to mitigate climate change
NPR interview with Dr. Tom Halloran