EAPS Study to Investigate Arctic Carbon Stores - Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences - Purdue University Skip to main content

EAPS Study to Investigate Arctic Carbon Stores


Writer(s): Logan Judy

An EAPS study is investigating vulnerable carbon stores in the Arctic.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, the study examines the rich peatlands of the North American Arctic, which may provide a sink for carbon that is lost as permafrost thaws.  Dr. Qianlai Zhuang of EAPS, who is the study’s principal investigator, said this is important for modeling future climate change correctly.

“The Arctic is rich in peatlands, which contain large amounts of organic carbon that are vulnerable to changing climate,” Dr. Zhuang said.  “The improved biogeochemistry models we will gain from this study will be an important component of Earth System Models that are used to project our future climates.”

Dr. Zhuang’s previous work has also contributed to a greater understanding of accounting for carbon in climate models with a long-term perspective.  Earlier this year, Dr. Zhuang and his PhD student, Zhou Lyu as well as their collaborators published a study in Ecological Applications that examined the carbon impacts of the continued warming in Alaska.  As Alaskan permafrost is expected to continue thawing, the publication’s projections found that permafrost thaw would release large quantities of carbon in the future. 

Building off of that research, this study seeks to further account for the carbon in the Arctic by investigating the amount of peat and how they have been formed.  The team will study these peatlands using biogeochemistry models to quantify future peatland changes and their carbon accumulation rates and greenhouse gas emissions during the remainder of this century.  This addresses one of NSF’s “Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments,” and was funded as part of a $9 million investment in nine new projects through their MacroSystems Biology program.

“These projects leverage NSF investments in biological infrastructure to study how organisms and ecosystems respond to environmental changes from local to continental scales,” said Joanne Tornow, NSF acting assistant director for biological sciences. “Most of these projects use data from NEON to address long-standing questions that could not be addressed even five years ago, without access to standardized, replicated, publicly available ecological data from ecosystems across North America.”

The project is expected to conclude in 2023.

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