Grants to Help UF Experts Build Carbon Sciences and Climate-Response Programs for Ag, Natural Resources Industries

Jim Jones and Tim Martin discuss the use of forests for carbon sequestration
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two new grants will enable University of Florida experts to plan an institute focused on response to climate change and launch a new center devoted to carbon sequestration. Designed to help the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, these new programs will establish UF as the Southeast’s leading university in carbon sciences and climate-response research.

The grants, awarded earlier this month, were provided by the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, research arm of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“We’re really excited about these projects, they could have major impacts not just in Florida but throughout the region and the country,” said Mark McLellan, IFAS dean for research. “As the Southeast adjusts to shifts in climate, producers will need science-based information to cope with the challenges it brings. This Climate Response Institute could become the core resource for how best to react to our changing environment.”

Planning for the university-wide institute – first of its kind in the Southeast – will be supported by a grant providing $40,000 per year for two years. It was awarded to Jim Jones, a distinguished professor with the agricultural and biological engineering department. The institute is tentatively known as the Climate Response Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UF’s Florida Cooperative Extension Service is expected to play a significant role in the institute, as will the UF Water Institute and many other units in several colleges including engineering, liberal arts and sciences, and design, construction and planning, Jones said.

Other universities may become involved as well – experts with Florida State University’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies program have already expressed interest.

Jones said he’s impressed by existing climate-change programs at Northeastern U.S. universities, notably the Earth Institute and its Climate and Society programs at Columbia University.

“One thing we’re doing that’s very different from other programs is, rather than focus only on what’ll happen in 100 years, we’ll focus on annual climate variability and climate change in one to 20 years, because that’s where a lot of the interest is among agriculturalists and natural resources managers,” said Jones, a longtime climate-change researcher.

Climate change could cause problems such as more frequent droughts, requiring producers to change their current growing methods, use new crop varieties or even switch to different crops, he said.

During the two-year planning process, Jones will confer with producers, network with colleagues and seek funding sources. Planning will begin immediately with a goal of launching the institute within the next year, he said.

A second grant will launch a new center, known as the Carbon Resources Science Center, by providing $75,000 per year for two years. It was awarded to Tim Martin, an associate professor with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation.

McLellan said, “Many of our producers and stakeholders here in Florida and around the country are in desperate need for an independent source of science to help judge the science basis for carbon trading and sequestration. This center will be a world-class resource for sound science in this field of study.”

The center will take shape this fall, Martin said. It will investigate methods of mitigating carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by sequestering solid carbon in trees and other crops.

“In terms of really big efforts to sequester carbon, forests are the key,” Martin said. “But there’s also ample room to look at other areas of agriculture as additional ways to reduce the carbon footprint.”

The Southern United States is uniquely positioned for this effort, he said, because this region produces more wood than any country elsewhere in the world.

The Carbon Resources Science Center will involve other units at UF, and possibly other universities, said Martin, who’s been investigating carbon sequestration for about a decade. Like the institute, the center will be a source of credible scientific information for the public.

The center will develop its own goals and programs and will be one of the major contributing components of the institute, Jones said. Other components of the institute will focus on climate information and decision support systems, water resources management, adaptation strategies for agricultural and natural resources industries, and extension and education in support of the sciences.

Increased concern from agricultural producers and mounting scientific evidence of global environmental change spurred funding for the grants, McLellan said. More than two years ago he began convening meetings to discuss how IFAS scientists could become more engaged in the subject.

Other efforts have come from those discussions, including creation of a new climate extension specialist position and IFAS hosting an international conference on climate change and its effects on agriculture, held in June.

IFAS scientists also co-lead the Southeast Climate Consortium, a scientific group that studies global and regional weather patterns, predicts climate conditions for the Southeastern United States three to six months in advance, and provides climate risk management information for use in agriculture, forestry and water resources management..

“We believe that enhancing our capacity in climate response and providing the world a science center on carbon sequestration are central to our mission,” McLellan said. “I see UF becoming recognized as a global leader in this field.”

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