On how to maximise the contribution of long-term experiments to global science…

Climate change affects our lives: floods destroy urban and natural areas, droughts cause plants to wilt and harm our soils, and constantly increasing carbon dioxide concentrations transform the earth into a giant greenhouse. Researchers around the world are examining the impacts of climate change on plants and soils. We want to understand how plants and soils respond to changes in the environment. This will help us to predict and prevent floods and the deterioration of soils in the future.

Finse research station in Norway
Finse research station in Norway

CEH’s long-term monitoring experiments are perfect platforms from which to learn about climate change and environmental effects on ecosystems. Similar experiments are established around the world. A major challenge is, however, that research projects are driven by scientific questions. Projects can focus on various topics such as plants, soils, microbes, nutrients, water or process understanding, to just name a few. This approach leads to projects focussing on narrow tasks, and often forgetting how the global impact of a project yielding long-term experimental data can be maximized.

Common variables and common protocols

One step towards maximising the impact of your data is to measure the most common variables at your experiments, even though these might not be the focus of your research. This way, data can be used by a wider scientific community, which may lead to as-yet-unforeseeable discoveries. In addition to common variables, common sampling and analysis protocols are needed. These common protocols need to be interdisciplinary.

A group of botanists, microbiologists, soil scientists and ecosystem researchers came together for a 3-day workshop in Finse, Norway in March 2017. David Robinson and Sabine Reinsch from CEH Bangor joined the discussion group at the remote research station in the mountains around Bergen 1030 m above sea level. The group discussed which measurements from long-term experiments will be useful to scientists and modellers in the future.

This workshop embodied a long-term vision in science. We want our data to be useful for our projects. But if it only takes a little more effort to measure a few more variables, our data can have a much bigger impact. This group of leading European researchers sees the benefit of interdisciplinary research to make data more useful. International workshops like this connect research communities and let us work together to give our research greater impact.

"International workshops like this connect research communities and let us work together to give our research greater impact." Sabine Reinsch, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Scientists at Finse Research Station
Scientists catching some sun at -20°C at Finse Research Station, Norway

We are now developing common protocols and recommendations as discussed during the workshop. Each scientist provides knowledge and protocols from their research area which are understandable across disciplines. The aim is to publish these protocols and recommendations before the end of 2017. This workshop will hopefully provide a collection of straightforward, easy-to-use guides for scientists young and old starting long-term climate change experiments in the future.

The workshop was financed by the EU Climate Change Manipulation Network (CLIMMANI).

Sabine Reinsch

Additional information

Information on CEH's long-term climate change experiment site

Staff page of Dr Sabine Reinsch, CEH

Staff page of Dr David Robinson, CEH

Information on ClimMani, an EU Cost Action

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