Ecosystem responses to climate change depend on the hidden world beneath our feet
Dr. Colleen Iversen, Distinguished Staff Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Luncheon Meeting Time: April 19, 2022, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time
Climate change is a tangible reality that affects our daily lives. The past decade was the hottest on record, and extreme events such as wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding are becoming more frequent and intense. These events and other consequences of climate change pose serious threats to communities, national security, and the economy. The Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) lead several one-of-a-kind climate experiments for the Department of Energy, where field scientists work closely with modelers to collect observations to test and inform model predictions of what the future might hold for society.
In the boreal forest of northern Minnesota, ORNL scientists use unique, large-scale enclosures to expose large sections of a peat bog to a range of possible futures to better understand and model the impacts of warming and elevated carbon dioxide on carbon that has accumulated in the bog for 11,000 years. In the Arctic tundra, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and has huge amounts of carbon stored in soils that have been frozen for millennia, ORNL scientists collect model-inspired observations of rapidly changing vegetation and permafrost extent. The responses of ecosystems like boreal peatlands and the Arctic tundra to changing environmental conditions are underpinned by what is happening in the hidden world belowground, where soils hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere and where changes in the interactions between roots and soils can determine whether ecosystems gain or lose carbon in response to climate change.
About the speaker:
Dr. Colleen M. Iversen
Distinguished Staff Scientist
Climate Change Science Institute and
Environmental Sciences Division
Leader, Plant-Soil Interactions Group
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Colleen Iversen is an ecosystem ecologist who uses a variety of field and laboratory techniques to understand and predict how ecosystems are shaped by environmental change. Her work takes her from upland forests to flooded peatlands to thawing Arctic tundra, chasing a better understanding of the secret lives of roots hidden beneath the soil surface, and she leads a team that curates the largest root trait database in the world. She works at the millimeter scale to answer a global question: how will ecosystems respond to the climate of the future?
Colleen is a Distinguished Staff Scientist in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Group Leader of the Plant-Soil Interactions Group. She is the Deputy Director of the NGEE Arctic project, the lead investigator of the Fine-Root Ecology Database (FRED), and leader of the Belowground Tasks component of the SPRUCE project. Colleen has been named a “Highly-Cited Researcher” by the Web of Science Group, Clarivate Analytics in 2019, 2020, and 2021in recognition of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1% in their field. Colleen is also an Associate Editor at the international plant journal New Phytologist and an elected Early Career Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. She was a member of the inaugural cohort of “New Voices” at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Colleen grew up exploring the fields and farms of mid-Michigan. She received her B.S. degree at Hope College, her M.S. degree at the University of Notre Dame, and her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Colleen sees science communication as the foundation for a shared understanding of society’s future. She has shared her scientific vision on Public Radio International’s “Science Friday” and in the Alda School’s “Flame Challenge,” as well as in organized symposia, sessions, and workshops. In recognition of her science communication efforts, in 2019 Colleen received the UT-Battelle award for Science Communication, as well as the UT-Battelle Director’s Award for Mission Support.