Articles | Volume 14, issue 18
Research article
19 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 19 Sep 2017

A zero-power warming chamber for investigating plant responses to rising temperature

Keith F. Lewin, Andrew M. McMahon, Kim S. Ely, Shawn P. Serbin, and Alistair Rogers

Abstract. Advances in understanding and model representation of plant and ecosystem responses to rising temperature have typically required temperature manipulation of research plots, particularly when considering warming scenarios that exceed current climate envelopes. In remote or logistically challenging locations, passive warming using solar radiation is often the only viable approach for temperature manipulation. However, current passive warming approaches are only able to elevate the mean daily air temperature by  ∼  1.5 °C. Motivated by our need to understand temperature acclimation in the Arctic, where warming has been markedly greater than the global average and where future warming is projected to be  ∼  2–3 °C by the middle of the century; we have developed an alternative approach to passive warming. Our zero-power warming (ZPW) chamber requires no electrical power for fully autonomous operation. It uses a novel system of internal and external heat exchangers that allow differential actuation of pistons in coupled cylinders to control chamber venting. This enables the ZPW chamber venting to respond to the difference between the external and internal air temperatures, thereby increasing the potential for warming and eliminating the risk of overheating. During the thaw season on the coastal tundra of northern Alaska our ZPW chamber was able to elevate the mean daily air temperature 2.6 °C above ambient, double the warming achieved by an adjacent passively warmed control chamber that lacked our hydraulic system. We describe the construction, evaluation and performance of our ZPW chamber and discuss the impact of potential artefacts associated with the design and its operation on the Arctic tundra. The approach we describe is highly flexible and tunable, enabling customization for use in many different environments where significantly greater temperature manipulation than that possible with existing passive warming approaches is desired.

Short summary
Experiments that manipulate the temperature of plants and ecosystems are used to improve understanding of how they will respond to climate change. In logistically challenging locations passive warming using solar energy is the the only viable option for warming experiments. Unfortunately current passive warming approaches can only raise air temperature by about 1.5 °C. We have developed a novel approach that doubles the warming possible using solar energy and requires no power.
Final-revised paper