Design and performance of combined infrared canopy and belowground warming in the B4WarmED (Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger) experiment

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Conducting manipulative climate change experiments in complex vegetation is challenging, given considerable temporal and spatial heterogeneity. One specific challenge involves warming of both plants and soils to depth. We describe the design and performance of an open-air warming experiment called Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger (B4WarmED) that addresses the potential for projected climate warming to alter tree function, species composition, and ecosystem processes at the boreal-temperate ecotone. The experiment includes two forested sites in northern Minnesota, USA, with plots in both open (recently clear-cut) and closed canopy habitats, where seedlings of 11 tree species were planted into native ground vegetation. Treatments include three target levels of plant canopy and soil warming (ambient, +1.7 °C, +3.4 °C). Warming was achieved by independent feedback control of voltage input to aboveground infrared heaters and belowground buried resistance heating cables in each of 72-7.0 m2 plots. The treatments emulated patterns of observed diurnal, seasonal, and annual temperatures but with superimposed warming. For the 2009 to 2011 field seasons, we achieved temperature elevations near our targets with growing season overall mean differences (ΔTbelow) of +1.84 °C and +3.66 °C at 10 cm soil depth and (ΔTabove) of +1.82 °C and +3.45 °C for the plant canopies. We also achieved measured soil warming to at least 1 m depth. Aboveground treatment stability and control were better during nighttime than daytime and in closed vs. open canopy sites in part due to calmer conditions. Heating efficacy in open canopy areas was reduced with increasing canopy complexity and size. Results of this study suggest the warming approach is scalable: it should work well in small-statured vegetation such as grasslands, desert, agricultural crops, and tree saplings (<5 m tall).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2334-2348
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Canopy temperature
  • Climate change
  • Ecosystem processes
  • Global warming
  • Infrared warming
  • Soil temperature
  • Soil warming
  • Species composition
  • Tree function
  • Trees

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