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Carbonshed Study - Niwot Ridge, Colorado
The oxygen isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2 is principally affected by CO2 exchange with the terrestrial biosphere and is a potential proxy for the contribution of terrestrial biomes to the global carbon budget. In addition, the oxygen isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2 is used to measure many biological and physical processes that contribute to our understanding of ecosystem ecology, climatology, and global climate change. Understanding the oxygen isotopic signature of a biome’s imprint on global CO2 requires knowing how the isotopic signature is partitioned between respiration and photosynthesis. This is particularly difficult in mountain regions since the complex topography creates considerable variation in the physical characteristics of the region such as temperature, relative humidity, and δ18O of precipitation that potentially affects the δ18O of respired CO2. Further, δ18O measurements of nocturnal atmospheric CO2 are confounded by the mixing of locally-respired CO2 with that flowing from higher elevations in the so called “carbonshed”.

Here are some photos of the research areas.
aspen & pine aspen & pine
pine pine
Patchy network of meadow, aspen, and pine/spruce plant communities in the Rocky Mountains with Niwot Ridge in background. The snow and hail-capped mountains were the result of a summer thunderstorm. At lower elevations the storm brought rain, at mid-elevations hail, and the high elevations saw snow.
stream stream
road pine elk
Note the elk in the bottom left picture. A bull was gathering his harem around the water source in the bottom of the valley. At least two satellite bulls are a short distance away.

The Rocky Mountians are mosiac of plant communities based on differences in aspect, elevation, edaphic characterisitics. Plants adapt to specific biological, chemical, and physical environmental conditions. Biological conditions such as levels of herbivory, associations with other plants in the commmunity, dispersal abilty, pollination capactity (i.e. correct pollinators present) affect the survival of a individual or even an entire plant species in a given area. Chemical conditions such as the pH of the soil, soil nutrient concentrations, presence of toxins from environmental pollution or allelopathic properties of other plants determine the chamical suitability of an area. Temperature and precipiation together can readily predict the regions that plants will survive because these two factors affect the type of biome that exists at the regional scale. However, temperature and precipitation also affect plant distribution on the local scale. Temperature itself is a critical physical aspect of an area. The maximum, minimum, the number of frost-free days, and number of heat units all can determine where a plant will be able to survive. Temperature can change with elevation and aspect. North facing slopes are generally cooler than south facing slopes. If the slope shades the vegetation, then cooler maximum temperatures and more moist conditions will pervail. Precipitation varies with physical characterisitics such as the side of the ridge. Rain shadows or areas of low rainfall exist on the opposition side of the prevailing direction of weather evewnts bringing precipitation. For example, the Sierra Nevadas are moist and Death Valley and the White Mountains of California are in the rain shadow. The Olympic Forest and Mt Rainier of Washington, while the eastern part of the state is desert and in the rain shadow because the moisture comes from the Pacific Ocean. More moist conditions prevail in areas with more direct sunlight. More areas may have ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and grass sparsely covering the ground on the sunny side of a valley. The other side of the valley will have Engleman's spruce (Abies englemannii), subalpine fir, alder, and numerous species of shrubs in the understory. The type of soil (texture, depth, pH, fertility, pattern of mositure level) also make a huge difference. To understand why plant species predominate in certain areas and not in others all these factors have to be considered. 
timberline timberline
Timberline where subalpine fir and Engleman's spruce can no longer survive the dry, cold, and inhospitable conditions of high elevations. Alpine areas have very few frost-free days to allow large trees to produce sufficient photosynthates to survive the winter (e.g. maintainance/respiration costs exceed photosynthesis).
placing soil rings placing rings
Placing PVC rings in the soil to measure night respiration and collect respired CO2.
Nederland from across the reservoir at sunset.







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