Questions for Travis Huxman

Learn more about my research In May 2009, Travis Huxman answered visitors questions about ecology.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

trans-2-butene's picture

Hey Travis!
While you’re conducting research on how changes in rangeland productivity might cause organic matter to store or release carbon, what is Biosphere 2 doing to reduce its carbon footprint?

posted on Wed, 05/13/2009 - 6:04pm
Travis Huxman's picture

What a great question! I believe strongly that we have a responsibility to consider our actions, including research projects, from both a carbon and water footprint perspective. When Biosphere 2 is sealed in order for us to carry out an experiment, we spend a lot of energy maintaining the internal climate, so we are compelled to make sure the questions are worth it!

So we are taking on a couple of projects. First, we're working with our facility engineers to find ways to conserve energy, like creating vents in the ceiling that we can open and exhaust hot air, preventing us from having to cool the building. Carefully working with the building has cut our energy consumption to a quarter of what it was when the facility was operating on the original mission.

Second, thanks to a donation from a solar panel manufacturer (Solon Inc.), we are installing 50KWa of panels that will take our external campus (building surrounding the Biosphere 2) off the grid. This is the first step in a research project that is aimed at taking the Biosphere 2 itself off the grid, using solar, battery storage and stored energy in hydropower in a 'smart-grid' context. We hope that the complete energy package is online within the next two years, but this project requires about 3 MWa of power production potential!

Finally, we are carefully considering our water footprint. The movement and treatment of water in the southwestern US is a major source of energy consumption and any reductions one can make to their water budget has big effects upstream. Thus, we are working on both passive and active water harvesting in an effort to really acknowledge the coupling of the water-energy nexus.

posted on Wed, 06/24/2009 - 6:34pm
esheroux's picture
esheroux says:

How long does it take to run some of your experiments? I imagine that experiments concerning water availability would take less time to get results then air quality or temperate change. What is a rough timeline of when we will have a better understanding of the possible outcomes and solutions to our impact on the environment?

posted on Thu, 05/14/2009 - 2:31pm
Travis Huxman's picture

Some experiments are quick, like studying the impact of soil drying on plant photosynthesis and growth. These physiological processes occur quickly (days to weeks), and so we can build a lot of information about the mechanisms that relate changes in rainfall to plant behavior quickly.

Some experiments are more difficult and require a longer time period, like understanding how plant populations are affected by year-to-year variation in rainfall patterns. For these experiments, we use fast-generation type species so that we can compress the time required (annual plants that germinate, grow, and then produce seeds in months, rather than years). However, these experiments are key to understanding the long-term consequences of changes in climate. We have a good handle now on how these fast-growing species may respond to climate and change the dynamics of their ecology, but what we have to do (and what is a major challenge) is taking that knowledge and applying it to very long-lived plants. Some plants in the desert are estimated to be more than several hundred years old!. Thus, one question we're working on is, how can we take our understanding of 'fast' processes and apply it to 'slow' processes?

Another, even potentially longer timescale is that of how plants and animals feedback and affect their environment. How plants grow affect the quality of the soil in which they are established. Where roots develop affect the pathways for water to move through soils. How productive plants may be affects the dynamics of fire (or other disturbance), which can change soil properties. All of these "life-environment interactions" are important controllers over hydrology. Thus, understanding these processes operating on very long time-scales is important for understanding how changes in ecological systems affect hydrologic systems and our water resources.

So we have somethings we can immediately learn, but some require long-term experimentation. One area that is really critical is the constant testing of models with the experiments we perform. In this case, our short-term experiments can really have a big immediate impact and inform our long-term expeirments.

posted on Wed, 06/24/2009 - 6:44pm
stephanowicz's picture

What environmental changes within the rangeland landscape in Arizona have taken place? It is more dry than in the past? What is threatening the grass and shrubs you mentioned, and what species rely on them?

posted on Mon, 05/18/2009 - 4:46pm
Joe's picture
Joe says:

Was there a biosphere 1? Where was it and how was it different from biosphere 2?

posted on Thu, 05/21/2009 - 9:43am
Eimear's picture
Eimear says:

How does the climate change so quickly?

posted on Sun, 06/07/2009 - 4:00pm
Austin's picture
Austin says:

how are cottonwood trees being used to store carbon? Are these like the cottonwood trees in Minnesota

posted on Mon, 06/08/2009 - 11:10am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Dear Travis-
What are the biggest problems with the enviorment?

posted on Tue, 06/09/2009 - 1:53pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What exactly is the greenhouse effect?

posted on Mon, 06/22/2009 - 9:40am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

will the grasslands become a rainforest someday- will they be extinct because of climate changes, or will they just migrate to other locations on the earth?

posted on Thu, 07/02/2009 - 2:25pm