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Senior scientist Katja Rinne-Garmston from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) received significant funding of EUR 1.8 million from the European Research Council (ERC). Her study aims to understand the impact of climate change on boreal forests in Eurasia.

Towards Understanding the Impact of Climate Change on Eurasian Boreal Forests: a Novel Stable Isotope Approach (ISOBOREAL) project studies boreal forests that are expected to be particularly sensitive to climate change. These ecosystems are located at latitudes where temperatures are predicted to increase the most as a result of global climate change.

Boreal forests have an impact on the climate through the carbon cycle and the radiative balance of the planet.
“Higher temperatures and the increasing carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere may change forest growth and, therefore, the significance of forests as carbon sinks,” Katja Rinne-Garmston says.

“If highly radiation absorbing boreal forests spread to the tundra, the amount of heat absorbed by the planet will increase even further.”

Climate signals detected in isotopes by using new methods

The new project studies the impact of changing conditions on forest growth by analysing stable carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope composition of trees. Variation in δ13C and δ18O values indicates changes in the environment, such as temperature and drought, and their impact on photosynthesis and transpiration. Climate signals recorded in annual growth rings of trees help to identify how changes in the environment have affected, for example, growth during the lifecycle of trees.

The main goal is, using new types of analytical methods, to better interpret climate signals in tree rings. For example, δ13C and δ18O variation in tree rings will be analysed at a spatial resolution of 100 µm instead of the conventional annual resolution.

“Therefore, we can identify how, for example, deteriorating drought in the soil during the growing season changes the composition of carbon and oxygen isotopes in annual growth rings. By using the project results, we can make predictions of the future of boreal forests as the climate changes,” Rinne-Garmston says.

ERC grants are highly valued

Grants given by ERC are the most highly valued grants in Europe. They are available to researchers from all fields. Every year, ERC grants are given to top researchers and their research groups in three different categories to support ground-breaking research.

In order to receive the grant, research needs to be ground-breaking and innovative. This funding model allows researchers to start something new and ambitious. The aim of ERC grants is to strengthen the high level of expertise, dynamics and creativity of European research.