When I joined the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science as the Director in 2022, I was the first climate scientist to hold this position. As a premier funder of long-term, large-scale climate science, the Office of Science was an ideal place for me to help support key research and highlight the wonderful work DOE-funded scientists are doing. During the 2023 Climate Week (September 18-22), I traveled to Minnesota and Alaska to learn more about the Office of Science’s investments in cutting edge studies of climate.
Some people may wonder why the Office of Science and DOE invest in climate science, but it is no mystery to me. Climate and energy are inextricably linked. Climate affects how our energy systems will operate in the future and how our energy systems are the main contributor to climate change. The Office of Science has also been supporting the most advanced Earth system models for decades for long-term predictions of climate. These models must be informed and validated by real environments.
I got to visit three key experiments funded by the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research Program: Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE project), the Snow ALbedo eVOlution (SALVO) experiment at the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) facility, and the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) Arctic. These experiments are each vital in their own right. But combined together, they have given us insight into how humans impact the environment and what we can expect in the future. All three experiments are either led by or have heavy involvement from DOE’s national laboratories. From soil science to microbiology to hydrogeology, the national laboratories bring new insights to scientific disciplines and sustain long-term experiments with world class instrumentation, personnel, and safety culture.
For the Alaska portion of my trip, I was joined by the Director of the DOE Arctic Energy Office, Erin Whitney, and several of her top advisors. The Arctic Energy Office leads work on the administration’s and DOE’s domestic energy Administration priorities as well as cross-cutting opportunities and priorities in the Arctic region. Traveling through Alaska, it was clear to me why the Arctic Energy Office is essential. Their expertise and connections to the local communities were invaluable and helped make my trip a success!
Day 1: Monday, September 18, Grand Rapids, Minnesota
We started our trip in Northern Minnesota with an experiment among the trees. The Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project is located in the peatland bogs of the Marcell Experimental Forest. In the cool, crisp weather with sunshine poking through the trees, we walked along metal boardwalks past greenhouse-like structures. Each structure is an experiment in progress. Inside each one, there is a mix of different temperatures and carbon dioxide levels. These mini-ecosystems allow scientists to study the impact of climate change and the resulting atmosphere on the environment. The scientists study the effects on the soils, microbes, subsurface water, plants, and more. The alien-like pods look like topless greenhouses, each one either circulating carbon dioxide, heating the air and subsurface, both, or neither (the vital control pod). The most extreme pod is 9 degrees hotter than the air outside with an elevated carbon dioxide concentration. The plaque above the door to the pod says, “Welcome to a warmer future.” It’s a stark reminder of the potential future of Earth under a changing climate.
Originally published at https://www.energy.gov/science/articles/week-climate-science