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  • richardmitnick 9:19 am on April 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U Arizona Bioshpere 2   

    From U Arizona: “Biosphere 2 as You’ve Never Seen It Before” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    April 12, 2017
    Robin Tricoles

    3
    U Arizona Biosphere 2

    1
    UA researcher Tyeen Taylor goes high into Biosphere 2 in his study of plant volatiles, the molecular compounds that are small enough to become a gas. (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

    Inside the iconic structure far from the UA’s main campus, climate change researcher Tyeen Taylor uses the simulation rainforest to study botanical volatiles, looking for clues to how those plants manage high temperatures and drought.

    Tyeen Taylor moves catlike along a narrow path fashioned from wooden planks. The path, tucked inside a simulation Brazilian rainforest, is man-made. The air is warm and thick. The scent of damp earth and assorted greenery predominates.

    This living lab is part of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, which this month is celebrating its 10th anniversary of UA research. And this is where Taylor conducts much of his study of climate change — specifically volatiles, the molecular compounds that are small enough to become a gas.

    “My work is about what you smell as you walk into the rainforest, which is plant volatiles,” says Taylor, a researcher at Biosphere 2. “I’m studying the volatiles that help plants deal with stress like the stress that comes from high temperatures and drought. With some plants’ leaves, if you crush them up, you smell all of this good-smelling stuff. Those are oils, and they’re stored as oils, but once you break them free, just like a perfume, the oil is gradually released into the air.”

    But other volatiles are produced on demand in response to environmental conditions that can shift at any given moment. Those are the ones Taylor is focused on. He explains that once the temperature of a leaf climbs, enzymes start modifying particular molecules inside the leaf, which turns those molecules into gas, which is then released.

    Although plants that inhabit rainforests exchange massive amounts of carbon dioxide and oxygen, it’s this process of volatile production, says Taylor, that mitigates damage and helps plants cope with climatic change — and, in turn, affects the world’s climate. For example, volatiles affect the length of time methane, a greenhouse gas, stays in the atmosphere, he says.

    “The volatiles also form aerosol particles after reacting with other chemicals in the atmosphere, and those aerosol particles are required for water to condense around,” Taylor says. “That’s what makes clouds, and the clouds, of course, make rain, and they reflect sunlight, which cools the planet.”

    Taylor, who grew up in Alaska, says his love for tropical forests started early, when he traveled as a child with his parents to Costa Rica on Christmas breaks. Now one of his favorite things to do when visiting tropical rainforests is to identify the plants by scent.

    “Oftentimes the leaves are so high up you can’t get a sample, but you can put a little cut in the trunk, and from the smell from that cut, you can work your way through the evolutionary structure of different plant groups because particular plant groups have particular types of volatiles,” Taylor says. “Once you calibrate your nose, you can get to the order and family and genus of a plant — maybe even the species, if it’s a peculiar enough smell.”

    While working on his doctorate at UA, Taylor built the first-ever instrument designed for the precise measurements of leaf-volatile emissions in the field. He is now attempting to merge the instrument with one that measures photosynthesis, so he can see these two processes simultaneiously.

    “I’ll be able to see how much carbon is entering the leaf in terms of carbon dioxide and how much of that carbon is leaving the leaf in terms of volatiles,” Taylor says.

    Taylor says carbon is like money in the bank for the leaf, and the leaf has to spend that money wisely. Too high a cost, and plant growth and leaf processes could be reduced, which could become an unsound evolutionary strategy for some species, he says.

    “I want to see what the carbon expense of these volatiles is because we know they help leaves deal with stress, but we also know not all species do it,” Taylor says. “The important question is why, and the answer may be that it costs too much carbon. If it turns out it doesn’t cost enough carbon to be a selective disadvantage, then there has to be another answer.

    “We know that different species will respond to climate change differently, but we want to know if some of them will be able to handle the warmer temperatures and droughts. By understanding the evolutionary controls on plant stress responses, we can better predict which species will be tolerant and which will not. If we know that, we’ll know a little more about the response of the rainforest and a little more about how the forest controls the climate.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:58 pm on March 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U Arizona Bioshpere 2   

    From U Arizona: “How the Largest Lab Experiment in Earth Sciences Was Built” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    March 21, 2016
    Robin Tricoles

    Designing and building three massive hill slopes, known as LEO, was no ordinary undertaking for the UA’s Biosphere 2.

    Perhaps it’s the hundreds of overhead windows that emulsify the incoming desert light. Or perhaps it’s the color of the steel housing — praying mantis green — that gives the surrounding space its otherworldly glow.

    Perhaps, but this is no ordinary space. This is the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, home to three identical, massive hill slopes each contained within a green steel structure. The three slopes are collectively known as the Landscape Evolution Observatory, or LEO, the world’s largest laboratory experiment in the earth sciences.

    University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2
    University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2

    Designing and building such a laboratory experiment was no ordinary undertaking. Just ask structural engineer Allan Ortega-Gutiérrez, who was instrumental in the structural design and construction phases of LEO.

    “It’s interesting to work on a project like this because it breaks some of the rules that as a structural engineer I do every day,” says Ortega-Gutiérrez, a UA alumnus. “LEO is one of those things that becomes a marriage between science and engineering.”

    Each of LEO’s hill slopes is 30 meters long and 11 meters wide, with an average slope of 10 degrees. Each slope is a 65-ton steel tray filled with 1 meter of crushed basalt rock. The tray holds more than 500 tons of the rock.

    Starting off with the basalt in its initial state, scientists are observing each step of the landscapes’ evolution from the purely mineral and abiotic to living landscapes that will support microbial communities and vascular plants.

    Standing at the base of one of the basalt-filled slopes, Ortega-Gutiérrez points to the ground, noting that he is standing on a concrete-reinforced slab with steel rebar tucked inside. Years ago, the slab supported 4 feet of soil where the Biospherians — four men and four women who took up residence for two years inside Biosphere 2 — grew their own food and crops.

    Ortega-Gutiérrez says one of the biggest challenges he faced was building everything inside the original growing space without changing anything.

    “We had to fit everything through the 10-by-12-foot door on the west side of the building,” he says. “It was a great coordination between the construction team and the engineering team to make sure the size of the pieces could fit.”

    Beneath the slab now resides “a basement full of mechanical equipment that helps LEO breathe,” he says. That equipment not only brings air to LEO but recycles and purifies LEO’s water supply. LEO is equipped with a sprinkler system designed by Ortega-Gutiérrez and his colleagues at M3 Engineering and Technology.

    LEO’s three giant hill slopes rest on load cells — electronic circuits that measure changes in the weight of the slope’s contents depending on how much water is added, runs off or leaves through evaporation or transpiration.

    In addition, each slope is equipped with 1,800 sensors and sampling devices residing within or above each landscape. The sensors monitor variables such as carbon and energy cycling processes, and the physical and chemical evolution of the landscape.


    Access the mp4 video here .

    Construction was finished in late 2012 — early and under budget. Now experiments are underway, and scientists are taking data and analyzing their findings.

    Ortega-Gutiérrez gazes at one of the slope’s load cells. He says he was thrilled to put his designs for LEO down on paper and also to come “see it growing every week” while it was under construction.

    “It’s like having a baby — you see that baby growing and you get to appreciate the progress,” he says.

    “I think this is a great opportunity not only for Tucson, not only for Arizona, not only for the U.S., but I think it’s also a great opportunity for humankind to understand what nature is, how it works, how to keep it clean, how to work with nature, and how to be better earthlings.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
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