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SBU Alum Looks Deep in the Amazon for Clues to Climate Change

Kolby jardine
Kolby Jardine
Kolby Jardine working on a 16-hour experiment in the Amazon to determine how changing environmental variables influences the rate at which leaves are removing CO2 from the atmosphere and releasing water vapor and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere.

Tropical forests play a major role in regulating Earth’s climate, but it is unclear how they will respond during the next 100 years as the planet’s climate warms. Research scientist Kolby Jardine has been working in Brazil’s Amazon Basin for the past two years researching how the “smells of the forest” (or volatile organic compounds) can be used to better understand tropical forest response to a changing climate.

Jardine earned his PhD in Atmospheric and Marine Sciences from Stony Brook in 2008 and now works in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division division at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He just concluded research on the GoAmazon 2014/5 project, which attempts to explain in much greater detail how tropical forests interact with Earth’s climate. Then scientists can determine more accurately how rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, increasing greenhouse gas levels, and other natural and human-induced changes affect tropical forests’ influence on the global climate.

“As head of the terrestrial component of the GoAmazon project, I assembled a research team and we built a new eco-metabolomics laboratory at the National Institute for Atmospheric Research, constructed a waterproof instrument container with 24/7 power in a remote field site in a primary rainforest ecosystem, and conducted research on towers and forest transects” said Jardine. “We worked roughly 35 miles northwest of Manaus, Brazil.”

Jardine forest
Jardine and his team conducted research on towers and forest transects.

Using mass spectrometers and other sensors from 150-foot towers above the forest, Jardine and his team studied more than 500 species of trees as they measured volatile emissions from an individual leaf to the entire ecosystem level.

“During our many field expeditions, we observed an incredible array of Amazon life including one of the largest spotted jaguars in the forest, giant river otters, sloths, ant eaters, land turtles, a giant river fish, and a large poisonous snake lying coiled and waiting on the trail at 3 am,” said Jardine.

The data they collected in the field will be used to design better predictive models that will hopefully impact public policy that could slow the effects of global warming and deforestation. In addition, the data will be used to enable forest managers to potentially minimize its impacts and to promote the understanding of biodiversity and forest functioning.

Of particular interest throughout the project, Jardine and his team of Brazilian technicians and graduate student were in search of new highly reactive “smells” that may seed cloud formation in the atmosphere and act as antioxidants in plants to protect their delicate structures during oxidative stress. His group, which includes his wife Angela Jardine, has authored more than 10 papers describing their discoveries in international journals including Plant Physiology, Journal of Experimental Botany, Plant Cell and Environment, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Global Biogeochemical Cycles and Geophysical Research Letters.

Jardine is now preparing for a longer 10-year study, Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE) Tropics, which is an integrated field study that will utilize a network of observation sites to better understand how land-atmosphere processes affect tropical water and carbon cycling in tropical ecosystems.

Several videos and research papers on Jardine’s Amazon experience are available on his blog, kolbala.livejournal.com.

Lynne Roth; photos by Kolby Jardine


Kolby Jardine leads a scientific adventure in Caxiuana National Forest.

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