Due to climate change, the world as we know it today is rapidly changing: Temperatures are rising, rain events become more intense, and at the same time there are longer periods without rain. All these changes are effecting ecosystems and the services they provide (e.g. food production, water storage, nutrient cycling) in ways that are largely unknown and hard to test. Our innovative experimental setup greatly facilitates such experiments, as we use ecosystem samples collected from nature which we expose to several abiotic conditions simultaneously (e.g. temperature and precipitation) to create realistic climatic scenario’s.
Our system uses controlled laboratory conditions to improve the accuracy of our measurements. It features 40 independent units with intact natural soil samples we collect from the field (including all species from microbes to plants and insects). It allows us to program very specific and realistic light, temperature and rain conditions, which allows us to apply combinations of these stressors to individual experimental units, thereby simulating different climatic scenario’s.
All of the manipulated aspects (e.g. temperature, precipitation) for each independent unit can be easily programmed through a central system, which can be accessed from someone’s personal computer and even phone, thereby minimizing interference with the running experiments. The automatic data logging and production of easily interpretable graphs further facilitates the monitoring of running experiments.
The use of intact samples from nature, combined with the controlled conditions provided by the laboratory setting and the ability to simultaneously expose each individual unit to several abiotic conditions are unique.
This project uses a combination of analog electronics, digital electronics, embedded/Linux/Web software and mechanical engineering.
Each column has its own embedded microcontroller which controls all aspects of heating, lighting, precipitation, soil temperature measurement and handles all communication with the central unit. The central unit is based on a Raspberry Pi with a touchscreen, it controls and powers all columns and the water reservoir. It allows local operation via the touchscreen and remote operation via the internet. Data is automatically transferred to our BIBRO system where it is displayed online or downloaded for further analysis. Alarm levels can be set on the water level in the reservoir or any other parameter. If alarm levels are exceeded, a message can be sent via email or sms.
This project is now incorporated in the Demonstrator-Lab where we have several steps planned for further developments and commercialization.