BIFoR aims to be an internationally leading Institute that will address two fundamental and interrelated challenges:
The impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands
The dynamic response of forests to environmental change, including climate change, is only partially understood. To increase understanding, we will build a Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment, set in mature, unmanaged, temperate woodland.The basic construction of a woodland-FACE experiment is a cylindrical ring structure, as wide and as high as the tree canopy (ca. 25 m), supporting pipes that deliver CO2 in such a way that the woodland inside the ring is immersed in elevated CO2 but the rest of the woodland remains largely unaffected. Winds disperse the CO2 continuously so it must be replenished, using an average of 15 tonnes per day and so requiring substantial gas handling facilities. The CO2 used would otherwise be vented directly to the atmosphere, and our monthly usage is equivalent to one return transatlantic flight so, although not carbon neutral, our experiment is not as profligate as it sounds and is of course directed at understanding the implications of climate change on our fragile ecosystem.
FACE experiments require bespoke control engineering that responds rapidly to changes in wind speed and direction so that CO2 is introduced into the ring always on the upwind side and in just sufficient quantity to maintain the target concentration. A successful experiment will expect to provide CO2 within 10% of the target concentration at least 98% of the time when operating, for the entire duration of the CO2 application. In order to detect a signal, and to eliminate effects of the FACE installation itself, control rings will be built in which ambient air is used instead of CO2-enriched air. The whole experiment, including baseline measurements before the CO2 is applied, will run for more than 10 years.
Forest FACE experiments are, therefore, “big science”, terrestrial ecology’s version of the space programme, large physics experiments, or advanced manufacturing centres in terms of the requirements for sustained and stringent quality assurance and quality control. Only in this way, can we “follow the carbon” to establish the true contribution of mature forests to the removal of CO2 from the air.
The resilience of trees to invasive pests and diseases
We will address: tree defence, susceptibility and resistance under current and future climatic and environmental scenarios; disease systematics and diagnostics; genomic, metabolomic and bioinformatic tools for discovery of biomarkers of toxicity that are predictive of whole plant disease; disease epidemiology and modelling; invasiveness; methods of control, containment and mitigation; and, from a broader systems perspective, innovative approaches to manage risks to forest health.