Press release: How nature regulates CO2 flux

Nr. 202/2016 - 13.10.2016

Göttingen biogeoscientist awarded Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council

(pug) The biogeoscientist Professor Alexander Knohl of the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at Göttingen University has been awarded a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). Starting 1 October 2016, the ERC is providing a total of nearly two million euros to fund Prof. Knohl’s research for five years. Within the project "Oxygen flux measurements as a new tracer for the carbon and nitrogen cycles in terrestrial ecosystems“ (OXYFLUX), Prof. Knohl aims to develop a new method for quantifying the carbon dioxide (CO2) sink of terrestrial ecosystems.

Worldwide, humans generate emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2 that burdens the atmosphere with 10 gigatons of carbon yearly. Approximately 4.4 gigatons of these emissions collect in the atmosphere, 3 gigatons fall on the land and the remaining 2.6 end up in our oceans. “Nature renders an amazing service by assimilating around 50 percent of the emissions generated by humans worldwide,” says Prof. Knohl. And it is exactly this service rendered by nature that his research project is looking into.

The primary method involves measuring the CO2 uptake of terrestrial ecosystems utilising climate towers. This allows measurement of the net CO2 flux of an entire ecosystem. “One problem with these measurements, however, was that we were unable to obtain direct knowledge about the individual components of CO2 flux during plant and soil uptake,“ explains Prof. Knohl. Understanding these components is pivotal for verifying global climate models. The approach in Prof. Knohl's project is to measure a second gas at his climate towers – namely oxygen – which is similar to CO2, but assimilated and released from plants and the soil in a different way. “The idea sounds simple. But the challenge lies in the fact that oxygen is much more difficult to measure and that new measuring methods need to be developed,“ says Prof. Knohl.

Alexander Knohl, born in 1972, studied geoecology at the universities of Braunschweig and Bayreuth in Germany and at Utah State University in the USA, earning his doctoral degree at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry at the University of Jena. After numerous research fellowships at the University of California in Berkeley and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he became Professor of Bioclimatology at Göttingen University in 2009, concurrent with his induction into the "The Young Academy”.

Contact address:
Professor Alexander Knohl
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology
Büsgen Institute – Department of Bioclimatology
Büsgenweg 2, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
phone +49 (0)551 39-33682