Instruments Will Help WSU Scientists Collect Better Data on Climate Change

PULLMAN, Wash. — Some of the confusion over climate change from the greenhouse effect is because it is difficult to collect good data.

If researchers wanted to collect an air sample, they would have to climb hundreds of feet into the forest canopy with a gas canister, take a sample, put it into a backpack and transport it to a distant laboratory for analysis.

“It’s very cumbersome and provides limited data,” says Brian Lamb, Washington State University Boeing Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering.

Lamb, Hal Westberg and George Mount, faculty members in the WSU College of Engineering and Architecture’s Laboratory of Atmospheric Research, are among a team of researchers who have received a four-year, $1.9-million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop instruments and new methods of collecting data. Understanding how atmospheric gas exchange interacts with the earth’s biosphere will help scientists understand a number of environmental problems, from air pollution to climate change.

In the debate over climate change, scientists have argued about how carbon is stored in world ecosystems and how much is released into the atmosphere through biological processes like plant respiration and decomposition. For instance, scientists often don’t know if the carbon they’re measuring in the atmosphere is going up or down in an updraft or downdraft.

The researchers, collaborating with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Purdue University and Ohio State University, are working to develop and test a new suite of instruments that will be less cumbersome, more accessible, more affordable and flexible enough to measure various gases. They hope to make their methods and instruments available for biological/atmospheric researchers worldwide and to develop measurement methods that can be used in towers or airplanes.