Two researchers from North Arizona University have been awarded $1.3m to push forward projects that are working to predict carbon storage by plants and soil in critical regions of the globe, and how that storage is being altered by changing climate patterns.

Awarded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers from the Centre for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU will focus on tundra and boreal forests and the continental US.

The projects will examine the stability of carbon sinks – a metaphor describing the process by which CO2 is pulled out of the atmosphere and locked away in plants and soils – and under what future conditions such sinks may shift to become carbon sources in the atmosphere.

As part of the funding, Senior Research Associate Xanthe Walker and Co-Principle Investigator and Biology Professor Michelle Mack received $850,000 to investigate the impacts of wildfire on long-term carbon locked away in Arctic soils.

Walker, said, “As we all watch the Arctic undergo rapid change, we know that legacy carbon is a critical part of the picture. This grant will help up better learn where and when fire may push these forests across a threshold, so they become sources of carbon to the atmosphere.”

The team plans to train five undergraduate per year and hopes the project will help land and fire managers better identify where long-term carbon is likely to combust.

In a separate award, Ecoss Professor Yiqi Luo has received $450,000 grant to design tools that better capture the “breathing” patterns of vegetation in the US. The grant is part of a nearly $1.1m collaboration with the University of New Hampshire researcher Jingfeng Xiao.

Luo, commented, “The data about plants and atmospheric conditions collected at NEON sites is very valuable to understanding climate variability and regional trends. But by aggregating it, we can ask some bigger question about how carbon is cycling through the US and whether we can count on a land sink in the future.”