The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) is a world-leading centre in the understanding of how forests react to the combined threats of climate change and invasive pests or diseases.
World-leading ‘big science’ has come to the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) in the form of a Free-Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) Facility, built into established English woodland. BIFoR FACE will study how forests will respond to future increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Extra CO2, equivalent to concentrations expected around 2050, will be delivered to undisturbed patches of woodland. Many aspects of their growth and the interactions with surrounding ecosystems will then be measured until at least 2026.
One of only two forest-FACE facilities operating across the world, a major challenge has been to build the facility without damaging the delicate natural ecosystem. For that reason, no concrete foundations have been used and major elements of the infrastructure were put in place by helicopter. Six completely open cylindrical rings, 30m wide and as high as the tree canopy, are served by gas-handling facilities, which store 100 tonnes of liquid CO2 and vaporise and deliver up to 15 tonnes per day to 3 of the 6 rings. The construction of the BIFoR FACE Facility is now complete. We are spending this year taking vital baseline measurements and will start to elevate the level of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in three of the experimental plots during budburst 2017.
Forests are critical components of global carbon, nutrient and water cycles, influencing the thermal balance of the planet directly and indirectly, and are home to more than half of all known species. Forests deliver direct economic, environmental and social benefits, ranging from fuel and building materials, to the sense of well-being associated with a walk in the woods.
FACE experiments study to what extent these environmental benefits will persist into the future. The BIFoR programme is akin to space programmes, large physics experiments, or advanced manufacturing centres in its requirement for sustained and stringent quality assurance and quality control. The University of Birmingham has stepped up to the challenge of mounting ‘big science’ forest research to answer crucial questions about the future world we are creating.