One of the key challenges BIFoR addresses is the impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands.
In the video above, Professor Rob MacKenzie describes the focus of the institute's research and the importance of understanding how forests work.
The dynamic response of forests to environmental change, including climate change, is only partially understood. To increase understanding, we have built a Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment, set in mature, unmanaged, temperate woodland. It is located on private land in Staffordshire (about a 1-hour drive from the main University campus).
BIFoR FACE is a so-called 'second generation' forest FACE site. After a 'first generation' of forest FACE experiments had built our knowledge base on how young forest plantations are affected by increasing atmospheric CO2, the scientific community has long argued the urgent need for upscaled experiments in mature, complex forest ecosystems. BIFoR-FACE is only the second such facility worldwide, and the only one in the Northern Hemisphere. Recently recognised with awards for its sensitive construction and low-impact integration into the existing woodland, the facility will enable the much needed real world experiment to improve our climate projections and evaluate risks to forest ecosystems and the services they provide.
On 3rd April 2017, coinciding with the spring flush of the oak trees, the facility was switched on, crowning three years of careful planning, construction and testing. For the entire growing season, three 30-metre-wide plots of mature oak forest have been immersed in an atmosphere with elevated CO2 concentration, topped up from current values of just above 400 ppm (parts per million) to 550 ppm, a roughly 38% increase, which the entire globe is likely to see by 2050. The futuristic ‘sci-fi forest’ (as named by BBC’s Environment Analyst, Roger Harrabin) consistently achieved its performance targets throughout the year. Over the entire season, downtime was minimal (only 2.5% of the time), and more than 90% of the time target concentration was within narrow tolerances. These performance measures compare favourably to the only other 2nd generation forest FACE in Australia, and also to previous smaller scale facilities. More information is available in the journal Global Change Biology - please contact us if you have any problems accessing this academic paper.
We have a 9 minute virtual reality tour of the facility available to watch online, and many other videos available on our YouTube playlist. Since early 2017 we have 140 group visits to the BIFoR FACE Facility! If you would like to book a group visit and/or hire a room for a meeting in this unique location please contact email@example.com
BIFoR FACE is also part of the Ecological Continuity Trust long-term ecological experiments network.
A woodland-FACE facility comprises a series of approximately cylindrical ring structures, as high as the tree canopy (around 25 m) and 30 m wide, 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.
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. BIFoR FACE control engineering is provided by our partner Brookhaven National Laboratory.
(3, 3, 2) design
There are three “treatment” plots, receiving elevated CO2. These are matched with three “control” plots, which are identical in every way except that ambient air is used rather than air enriched in CO2. A further level of control is provided by three completely undisturbed plots to which power and data are provided. Each plot has internal splitting by tree species and canopy – especially splitting into oak upper canopy and hazel coppice layer – giving a (3, 3, 2) experimental design for most studies. More detailed information can be found in our academic paper "Characteristics of Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment of a Northern Temperate Mature Forest". You can also download our powerpoint presentation for more information about the BIFoR FACE Facility.
To find out more about the research currently underway please visit our 'Ongoing Research' web page and find out about our BIFoR PhD students and their fascinating research here.
The BIFoR FACE facility will address the following fundamental questions regarding the ability of woodland to capture carbon dioxide:
- Does elevated CO2 increase the carbon storage within a mature woodland ecosystem?
- Do other macro- or micro-nutrients – i.e., nitrogen, phosphorus - limit the uptake of carbon in this ecosystem?
- What aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem structure-and-function alter when the ecosystem is exposed to elevated CO2?
- How can lessons from the global network of second-generation Forest FACE experiments be generalised to other woodlands and forests?
The FACE facility is intended to be a platform with which a wide variety of research questions can be tested. The research team at BIFoR FACE is drawn from leading research groups across the world, each bringing their distinctive research expertise to bear. Want to become involved? Find out more about how to get your own research up and running at BIFoR FACE here or visit our volunteering, partnership and postgraduate study web pages and follow us on twitter @BIFoRUoB or Instagram on /biforuob for the most up to date news.
BIFoR will also connect to long-term ecosystem research networks in the UK, continental Europe, and North America. This includes linking our keystone experimental facility, BIFoR FACE closely with the already operational EucFACE facility in Australia and the AmazonFACE facility in Brazil, and any other forest FACE facilities built in the future. Find out more about Partnership working here.
One of four met masts erected in 2017 to measure air flow into, out of and over the forest.
A researcher inside one of the FACE arrays
Walkways to access the experimental plots at BIFoR FACE without interfering with valuable 'research real estate'
The magnificently renovated 19th century Long Barn houses seminar facility and laboratory on the ground floor and 'hot desk' and discussion spaces on the mezzanine level.