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Argonne National Laboratory


Argonne Impacts State by State

Argonne’s collaborations in Alaska and across the United States have led to groundbreaking discoveries and development of new technologies that help meet the nation’s needs for sustainable energy, economic prosperity, and security.

Argonne’s data stations in Alaska help reveal impact of plant communities on the movement of energy in the Arctic

Graminoid-dominated tundra with dwarf shrubs growing in national park Kytalyk, in the Siberian Arctic. The blurred areas in the image are created by heat haze, which occurs when various surfaces heat up differently and hence create turbulence in the air. (Image by Gabriela Schaepman-Strub/University.)

Since 1979, the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole due to climate change. Global warming can substantially impact how energy moves between the land and atmosphere, affecting regional and global weather patterns. A recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and 62 institutions revealed that plant communities, which are often simplified in climate models, have a substantial impact on how energy is exchanged between the land and atmosphere during the Arctic summer.

The Arctic exhibits extensive diversity in plant communities, ranging from peat bogs to lichen-covered barrens to grasslands. The study found that vegetation type was a better predictor of energy exchange than temperature, snow cover and cloud cover. In addition, plant communities differed greatly in their warming and cooling effects.

The study relied on energy exchange measurements from 64 stations, including two of Argonne’s stations in Alaska. It’s extremely difficult to gather measurements in the Arctic, partly because of harsh weather conditions and the limited time period to collect data. While more stations and measurements are still needed, this study, which was published in Nature Communications, highlights the importance of incorporating vegetation types into Earth system models to better understand the impacts of climate change

Argonne: Pivotal discovery shows more CO2 emissions from permafrost soils than previously thought

A recent study found that carbon dioxide emissions from decomposition in Alaska’s permafrost soil are occurring much more quickly than once thought, with consequences for global warming. (Image by Shutterstock/R. Vickers.)

Permafrost, the perennially frozen subsoil in Earth’s northernmost regions, covers about 15% of land from the Arctic Ocean coastline through much of Alaska, northern Canada and northern Eurasia. A multi-institution study led by Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and including the DOE’s Argonne discovered that with rising global temperatures, the decomposition of organic matter in permafrost soil during winter can be substantially greater than previously thought.

The new numbers show that permafrost region soils release much more CO2 over the entire year than plants use during the summer. Scientists also found that the CO2 released by permafrost soil during winter could increase 41% by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

The study, which includes data gathered from more than 100 sites in Alaska by several institutions in addition to Argonne, was published in Nature Climate Change. The team’s findings highlight the need for more research on the permafrost region’s CO2 emissions, and demonstrate the significant impact these emissions could have on the greenhouse effect and global warming.