Carbon FluxNet - 140-108

Description: Carbon assimilation is a hot topic that has received a lot of media coverage of recent. It is the process by which plants take up atmospheric carbon dioxide, and convert it into plant biomass. With the increase in atmospheric CO2 due to human sources, and the hypothesized warming effect it will have on climates around the world, it is more important than ever to understand the impact our vast forests may have on global carbon cycling. Under a warmer climate, forests that used to have a net gain of CO2 may become a net source of it. Before we can even begin to make predictions about the future levels of atmospheric CO2, and of Canada’s forests, we need to know: Are Canada’s forests and peatlands currently a net source or sink for atmospheric CO2?

Fluxnet Canada is a multidisciplinary, cross-Canada collaboration project that uses a network of 7 carbon flux stations spaced across Canada. The towers measure eddy covariance (EC) – the time average vertical convective flux in CO2. CO2 levels are first measured using sensors at a set height above the forest canopy, then at various heights in the vegetation below. Carbon is taken in by plants during the day, and is lost from the plants at night. Soil biota also play an important role in carbon cycling. Carbon assimilation is estimated based on the difference between atmospheric carbon uptake and carbon dioxide loss. Other variables are measured and used in this estimation, such as sensible heat and water vapour. Many data are then combined to form a model, from which predictions can be made about the possible effects of climate change on these areas.

The Groundhog River Flux Station is located in the Timmins district of Northeastern Ontario. This Ontario flux station contributes to The GLFC Fluxnet Project and Fluxnet Canada, and also works with other organizations in Canada and around the world. This station is of particular interest because it is in the Boreal Shield Ecozone. Boreal mixedwoods comprised more than 50% of the forest area in Ontario. This forest type can be highly productive, and is commercially harvested in many locations, using many different management techniques. And, as in all natural ecosystems, these forests are also affected by environmental stressors, disease, and natural disasters. Human harvesting practices and natural regulation processes may have different effects on the rate of carbon cycling. The removal of trees, by whichever means, and the subsequent regrowth of affected forests, affects the carbon flux in Canada. That is why it is important to have flux towers collecting data in both disturbed and undisturbed sites. Flux towers sites are paired: one is an “undisturbed” site, the other at a nearby, ecologically-analogous “disturbed” site. Five of the stations are in forests, two in peatlands.

Ultimately, it is hoped that data collected from flux towers could be used to predict the effects of climate change, and/or harvesting techniques on Canada’s forests. The Forestry Research Partnership is committed to furthering research at the landscape level, looking at forest management planning and land use policies that address large-scale issues. Data collected by the Fluxnet Canada flux stations will provide the baseline data for future comparison, and models created using this source of information can help us make ecologically sustainable decisions about harvesting techniques despite the possibility of a changing climate altering the carbon flux in Canada.


The Project Team:  Al Cameron, CFS


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