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Nevada desert face facility

A collaboration between Nevada Universities, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nevada Operations

A High CO2 World in the Mojave Desert

The NDFF whole-ecosystem CO2 manipulation study was a flagship experiment of the Terrestrial Carbon Process (TCP) research program of the US Dept. of Energy. It was also a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) and a contribution to the US Global Change Research Program. NDFF operations and research were primarily funded by DOE-EPSCoR, DOE TCP and National Science Foundation (NSF) climate change programs. Globally, NDFF was and remains the only facility that examined the impact of elevated atmospheric CO2 on arid ecosystems and was also the only experiment that took place in an undisturbed, natural ecosystem.

Brief History of the Nevada Desert FACE Facility (NDFF)

NDFF became operational in April 1997 and continued to provide elevated atmospheric CO2 to undisturbed Mojave Desert plots for ten years, through June 2007. The NDFF consisted of 9 study plots, each 23 m in diameter: 3 FACE rings at elevated CO2 concentration (550 PPM), 3 FACE rings at ambient CO2 concentration (i.e. blower control rings at ambient CO2 concentration, naturally increasing from 360 to 380 PPM throughout the 10 yr period), and 3 non-blower control plots. The array of study plots was located on a broad alluvial fan in vegetation that is dominated by Ambrosia dumosa (bursage), a small drought-deciduous shrub, and Larrea tridentata (creosotebush), an evergreen shrub that reaches over 1 m in height. Other predominant shrubs include the drought-deciduous Lycium andersonii (Anderson’s wolfberry), Lycium pallidum (pale wolfberry) and Krameria erecta (desert ratany) and the evergreen Ephedra nevadensis (Mormon tea). Abundant perennial grasses are: Achnatherum hymenoides (Indian ricegrass), Pleuraphis rigida (big galleta grass), and Erioneuron pulchellum (fluffgrass).; Up to 75 annual species may occur depending on rainfall, including the exotic annual grass Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens (red brome). Soils at the site have a well-developed biological crust composed of bacteria, algae, mosses and lichens.

Prior to the CO2 being turned off in 2007 approximately 2/3 of each plot was extensively surveyed and sampled for: biological soil crust cover (Jayne Belnap USGS), soil microbial DNA analysis (Cheryl Luske, LANL) and aboveground cover biomass (Stan Smith, UNLV). After the CO2 was turned off, extensive fine and coarse roots samples and soil samples were acquired from the same area for analysis (Robert Nowak, UNR and R. Dave Evans WSU). Synthesis of these results is on-going. All NDFF publications are listed in this website’s results section.

Plot before and after harvest

The aerial photographs above depict one of the elevated CO2 rings (Ring 1) before and after the final harvesting efforts. The photographs were acquired with a radio control helicopter platform developed during the project (Click image above to view enlarged image.)

Although no new research is currently funded for continuing research at NDFF, the plots are being maintained for future potential research. NOTE: CO2 was turned off in June 2007 and the FACE system has been dismantled. Please contact Dr. Lynn Fenstermaker for more information or if you have interest in conducting research at this site.