Dr. Joel Kostka, a Professor jointly appointed in Biology and Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, was recently awarded $1.0 million in research grants by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the microbially-mediated carbon cycle in boreal or northern peatlands. Peatlands sequester one-third of all soil carbon and currently act as major sinks of atmospheric CO2. The ability to predict or to simulate the fate of stored carbon in response to climatic disruption remains hampered by our limited understanding of the controls of C turnover and the composition and functioning of peatland microbial communities. Given their global extent and uncertain fate with climatic change, boreal or northern peatlands are considered a high priority for climate change research. The overall goal of this project is to investigate the rates, pathways, and controls of organic matter decomposition by microbes in response to warming and elevated carbon dioxide in peatlands. The project will be conducted at the Marcell Experimental Forest (MEF) in northern Minnesota where US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the USDA Forest Service are developing a climate manipulation field site known as Spruce and Peatland Response Under Climatic and Environmental Change (SPRUCE). In the Minnesota peatland, DOE is building 10 open top enclosures (12 m in diameter and 8 m in height). Inside these enclosures, the peat soil and air will be heated and carbon dioxide concentrations raised to simulate future climate change. Kostka’s project will examine changes to the microbial communities during this large scale climate change experiment. The project team includes collaborators at Florida State University and ORNL.
Dr. Kostka was interviewed last week by BBC radio on microbial hydrocarbon degradation (http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/specials/show/20140809/)
It also went out on the 5 Live show on Saturday morning - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04cf3q8