Silvion supplied one of its Type WE200 Ag/AgCl electrodes for use in soil to the School of Life Sciences, Heriot-Way University, Edinburgh to be used on the Arctic research programme, Project Hydra.
Following 7 months of the WE200 in operation, Dr Lorna Street stated "I have at last got chance to have a proper look at the data. The system seemed to work very well – we have sensible responses and there doesn't seem to be any drift, so I'm happy! We left the sensors to freeze in, because we want to see how conditions change right up to point where the ground freezes. So, we will see if the reference electrode survives over an Arctic winter or not! Thanks a lot for your help"
About the project...
Arctic regions store vast amounts of carbon. In the cold wet climate of the far north decomposition happens slowly; when plants or animals die the carbon contained in their bodies takes a long time to degrade. The result has been a build up of semi-decayed carbon-rich material in Arctic soils over many thousands of years (AKA soil organic matter). Arctic soils currently contain nearly a half of the total global soil carbon, that is, more than twice the total carbon currently contained in the atmosphere.
Climate change, which we know is occurring more quickly in the Arctic than anywhere else, is lifting the temperature restrictions on decay. Furthermore, soils which usually remain frozen even in the Arctic summer (permafrost), are now slowly beginning to melt. So warmer soils are likely to cause an increase in the decomposition of soil organic matter - converting soil carbon to carbon dioxide or methane, both of which are greenhouse gases (GHGs). This process could have a global impact - if the Arctic produces more GHGs, climate change may happen more quickly everywhere.
What remains uncertain is whether the increase in production of carbon dioxide or methane will be more important. Methane is a more powerful GHG than carbon dioxide over the short term (i.e. tens of years). The balance between the two gases is determined by the availability of oxygen, which in turn is related to the amount of water in the soil - waterlogged soils have low oxygen content and produce more methane. It is possible that the Arctic could become drier OR wetter in the future, and we don't know what the effects on GHG emissions and carbon storage will be.
Project Hydra aims to answer some of these questions - how do the carbon cycle and the water (hydrological) cycle interact in Arctic permafrost ecosystems? How might GHG emissions change in the future?