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ULM secures state’s first carbon flux monitoring tower for pivotal research

Published October 9, 2013

The University of Louisiana at Monroe unveiled its newest tool for ecological research—the ULM Carbon Flux Tower—capable of continuously monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations in a large area.

This 120-foot structure is the first of its kind in Louisiana and is located at the Russell Sage Wildlife Management Area in Monroe.

Photo of carbon flux tower
ULM’s new Carbon Flux Research Tower

“This carbon flux tower will not only put ULM on a national and global map, but the state of Louisiana as well,” said Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee, associate professor of Biology at ULM.

“The School of Sciences is proud to have one of these research facilities. Such facilities are usually monitored by Ph.D. granting departments at top-tier institutions such as Duke University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, and Harvard University, to name a few. The fact that ULM has joined research in the ranks of these universities, attests to the potential housed at the university.”

According to Bhattacharjee, “Due to almost continuous forest cover and no major interruptions by artificial structures, the ‘fetch’ of the ULM tower is excellent, about 2.5 miles across,” he said.

“The tower is situated close to the center of the management area and is amid large bottomland hardwood trees. The location of the tower is excellent since it has a large undisturbed ‘fetch,’ which is an area of forest over which the measurements made by instruments on the tower are applicable.” 

The tower has been outfitted with state-of-the-art sensors positioned both on the tower and on the ground to allow for continuous monitoring of several variables such as solar radiation, photosynthetically active radiations, air temperature, rainfall, rain intensity, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture heat flux.

With the ULM carbon flux tower—constructed by Bleu Skies Tower Inc. in Ruston—Louisiana becomes the 33rd state to have a continuous monitoring station for carbon dioxide that is registered with the AmeriFlux Network housed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, at the University of California, Berkeley.

Photo of Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee

The AmeriFlux network gathers all appropriate and acceptable data from towers across North and South America for interpretation and application into climate models.

Kenny Ribbeck, the Administrator and Chief of the Biologist Division of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said, “Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee brings yet another level of research and understanding to the important role these types of forests play in maintaining the environment we take for granted,” he said.

“We are looking forward to learning more about our bottomland hardwood forests with Joydeep and the other ULM professors and students that will be gathering and analyzing the tremendous amount of data this tower system will be collecting. The Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system provides an important land base that acts as a hands-on outdoor classroom, used to provide outdoor recreational opportunities, environmental education, conservation training and practical scale research opportunities that advance our understanding of the complex system we have in these bottomland hardwood forests.”

With the tower now operational, teachers from areas schools can bring students to educate them about the ways in which ecosystem carbon balance is monitored.

Students and teachers will also be able to visit the Plant Ecology Lab at ULM to visualize the data collected by the ULM tower and the 96 other “active” towers spread across the country.

“Since there are currently no carbon flux monitoring sites in bottomland hardwood forests in the nation, the data generated by the ULM tower is going to fill a major gap in the understanding of ecosystem level carbon exchange in bottomlands,” Bhattacharjee continued.

ULM graduate student Jared Streeter of Bastrop, a plant ecology lab member, is currently working with Bhattacharjee on the project. He is conducting vegetation surveys in the area using the protocol set forth by Terrestrial Carbon Observation Panel of the Global Terrestrial Observing System Program, to complement data from the tower.

“Since this is the only tower in the region, including adjoining states of Mississippi and Arkansas, ULM will be in a position to allow scientists from various institutes of higher education to collaborate and provide a platform for carrying out cutting-edge research,” said Bhattacharjee.

Bhattacharjee plans to add another important sensor on the tower that will measure methane, a potent greenhouse gas associated with wetland areas.

“The future of C-flux research at ULM is great and this is just the beginning,” he said.

“Methane sensors that can be deployed on remote towers like this are a recent invention. Currently, we know very little about the amount of methane that these bottomlands generate during periods of the year when the ground is totally flooded. By quantifying the amount of methane along with carbon dioxide, we can begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and get a much better idea on the functioning of these unique ecosystems.”