Photo credit by Nicholas Raymond
By Colleen Mertes
Alistair Rogers, of Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been collecting data way out of New York state for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments Arctic Project. The data, which was collected in Barrow, Alaska, concerns the function of plant structures called stomata. The stomata regulates the flow of carbon dioxide and water between leaf and environment, or how the plant breathes. Rogers’ data on Arctic species is rare, which is why he was excited to share it in a global data share.
A project led by Yan-Shih Lin of Macquarie University and Belinda Medlyn of the University of Western Sydney stretched its data pool because of a collaborative effort of researchers around the world. The project focused on how the stomata transports water and carbon dioxide in different environments and lends insight into how plants adapt to the climate. The breadth of the data allows the researchers to compare the plants from all different systems, from the Arctic to the Amazon. The data shared showed how trees with dense stemwood are more conservative with their water as it is more costly for them to transport. Plants in cold and dry environments are more conservative with water than those in hot or wet environments.
Current Earth system models represent the process identically for all vegetation, but the data gathered proved otherwise, as the researchers predicted. Vegetation effects they Earth system by “storing carbon, moving water around the landscape, and cooling the planet’s surface,” Lin said. The project provided information that could be used to predict the effects, which is made more important under the current climate change.
Crowd sourcing data like these researchers in Australia proved to be efficient and extraordinary. The researchers said that they “couldn’t travel the whole world”, by contacting researchers around the globe they saved both money and time. Field research is extensive and expensive work. To gather the global database seen in this project would not have been possible by a single team. Data previously unknown was accessible and with it the researchers were able to apply their project to environments outside their reach.