The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Sustainability

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

A few weeks ago, I met with other U of MN Sustainability folks at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.

What a cool place! I love seeing all of the science that’s going on in the world. It sometimes makes me wish my career path would have gone toward field research.

On the other hand, field research also occasionally means that you have to deal with bugs:

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A few of us went for an early morning nature walk on Tuesday and were just hammered by deer flies. Our own fault – we did not prepare for them (bug spray, etc.). Oh well.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to connect with all of the other Sustainability people throughout the University of MN system (Twin Cities, Morris, Rochester, Crookston and Duluth). That was interesting and inspirational. Much work ahead.

However, we also took a field trip to get a look at what the scientists at Cedar Creek are working on.

Here, the director of Cedar Creek (in blue, with his arm up) is showing us one of the 3 meter x 3 meter plots where they are conducting research:

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They’re looking at a lot of different things, including how to efficiently grow biofuels, trying to figure out how much biodiversity is required to keep a healthy ecosystem, the difference in levels of prairie fire suppression, and many more.

“Operationalize ecosystems.”

In this picture, they are growing switchgrass. Look closely, and you’ll see toothpicks and paper clips in the soil – some of the experiments are that finely-grained:

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In this experiment, they are changing the soil chemistry at each site and looking at how minute changes in chemistry affect growth and plant hardiness.

Here’s an overview of the research site. Each square is 3 meters by 3 meters. Note the size of the car I circled to get a sense of how large this place is:

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They are doing other experiments at other sites (they have over 5,000 acres!).

In this experiment, they are blowing CO2 onto plants:

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Some people have theorized that as we have additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it will actually improve how well plants grow. This experiment is meant to figure out whether that’s’ really true. The preliminary results show that there’s a small degree of additional growth, but other things start happening at the same time. Plant biology evolved to grow in the environment that we have, and if change happens too quickly, organisms don’t have time for adaptation.

Here’s a picture of Cedar Creek’s, that shows a passel of grad students out working in the plots:

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Image from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Cedar Creek is a unique and interesting place. Nice to see all of the work they’re doing down there.