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Australian Scientists Unleash Most Expensive Climate Change Experiment Ever

May 09, 2012

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) has just begun a multimillion-dollar project described by Voice of America as one of the most expensive, complex climate change experiments in the world.  

As UWS Professor David Ellsworth described to VOA, the experiment consists of six structures comprised of steel pipes that surround woodland areas. The pipes are computer controlled to pump heavy doses of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the covered area, which allows UWS researchers to study the ecosystem's response to a CO2-rich atmosphere.

Because the experiment will continue flooding the contained environments with carbon dioxide for 10 years, the UWS researchers will be able to study CO2's effects on a bigger scale than most other climate change experiments. Other experiments run by the UWS's Hawkesbury Institute have a similar long-term view of understanding climate change.

"Most of our experiments are aimed at looking 30 to 50 years ahead based on predictions, so our CO2 concentrations and our temperature treatments are based around looking ahead to that sort of time frame," Director of Research Ian Anderson told VOA.

With a variety of sensors in the structures and the wealth of climate data gathered over the past few decades, the UWS researchers will be able to compare the forest plants' reactions to the CO2-rich environment with plant reactions to less-dense CO2 environments.

This project follows other high-concept, long-term climate change experiments that have taken or are taking place throughout the world.

  • In 2007, The BBC and Oxford University asked viewers to donate their computer power by installing a piece of software on their home computers to calculate climate change's effect on the United Kingdom. Called the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) project, it used small amounts of bandwidth from a wide variety of computers to run simulation models, which were then tallied, analyzed and compared. The experiment predicted that the UK climate will rise 4 degrees Celsius by 2080.

  •  In September 2011, Inhabitat published photos of a controlled volcano simulation. Because volcano eruptions can release significant amounts of ash into the sky that then act to cool the environment, Bristol University scientists attempted to recreate the phenomenon on a smaller, anthropogenic scale in their experiment.

  •  The BBC reported on a European experiment to identify trees that will survive in scientifically-predicted climate change environments. Trees from all over Europe and the United States were imported to prepared sections like the Crychan Forest in Wales, where they will be measured and studied for years to come. The development of the non-native trees will be compared to native tree development to assess their abilities to survive in developing CO2 environments and hotter, drier climates. Similar sites are also being prepared elsewhere in Britain and along the European Atlantic coast.