by Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Near GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. -- Normally, the sounds of birds and frogs are about all anyone will hear in the peat bogs of Itasca County. But lately the Marcell Experimental Forest has buzzed with the hum of bobcats as workers build a large network of boardwalks into the bog.
Scientists in north central Minnesota are preparing for a massive federal research project to study the effects of climate change on peatland ecosystems. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the $50 million project in a remote bog north of Grand Rapids could help researchers over the next decade answer critical questions about global warming.
Work crews are laying the groundwork for this fall, when crews will begin constructing more than a dozen huge transparent chambers -- 36 feet wide and 32 feet tall. Scientists will use the chambers to artificially raise the temperature in the bogs.
"This is going to be a unique experiment on the planet," said Randy Kolka, a research soil scientist for the U.S. Forest Service in Grand Rapids. "No infrastructure like this has ever been put in place into a similar ecosystem."
During the growing season, researchers will heat the air and soil inside the open-topped chambers. They'll also raise carbon dioxide levels, exposing plants and trees to the changes.
Following methods tested in a prototype of the octagon-shaped warming chamber at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, researchers will use electric heaters inserted into the soil to warm below ground. They'll raise air temperatures using four propane heaters per chamber.
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