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Carbon scientists go underground to look for answers

An unusual below-ground laboratory, set to be the only one of its kind in the UK, is to begin work at Bangor University later this year, enabling scientists to discover more about carbon held in the soil.


Professor Tom DeLuca in the un-refurbished rhizotronProfessor Tom DeLuca looks through an underground window in the un-refurbished rhizotronProfessor Thomas H. DeLuca along with colleagues Professors Davey L. Jones and Douglas. L. Godbold of Bangor University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources & Geography have been awarded a £150,000 Wolfson Laboratory Refurbishment grant through the Royal Society to refurbish and refit an existing rhizotron (a below-ground laboratory used in the study of soils and plant roots ) at Treborth Botanic Garden into a below-ground carbon laboratory. 


 As Professor Tom DeLuca explains: “Soils represent the single largest global carbon reservoir on land, larger even than the carbon held in plants themselves. Soils will therefore play a significant role in Wales’ attempt to curb net greenhouse gas carbon emissions by 3% per year over the next 20 years. 


“Centuries ago, Leonardo Da Vinci stated that: ’we know more of the movement of celestial bodies than we do of the soil under foot.’ This is still true today! Scientists currently have a limited understanding of how land use, the variety of plants, and climatic variables influence how much carbon is stored or released from the soil over long time periods.”


The grant from the Royal Society and the Wolfson foundation has made it possible for the University to refit the historically significant rhizotron to study carbon storage and turnover in soil ecosystems from the bottom up. The rhizotron will allow the scientists to peer into intact soil profiles from an underground observatory and the Wolfson refurbishment will allow them to actually interact with the soil at depth and sample soil atmosphere or soil solution, or root tissue without disturbing the soil itself.



The underground rhizotron prior to refurbishmentThe underground rhizotron prior to refurbishmentSaid Professor DeLuca: “The refurbished rhizotron will promote novel research and greatly advance our existing studies on soil carbon dynamics and plant-soil interactions including how adding ‘biochar’ or charcoal to the soil affects carbon storage and root colonization, and other aspects.”

“We believe that the Wolfson Belowground Carbon Laboratory will be an important compliment to the research infrastructure at Bangor University and attract researchers from around the globe to study belowground processes,” he added.

Publication date: 22 February 2011