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April 14, 2003

Plane may offer bird's-eye view on global warming

Atmospheric greenhouse gases are a problem – the real question is, how much of a problem. Scientists at Purdue University are hoping to get closer to a solution with a specially modified airplane.

Purdue's Paul Shepson is leading an interdisciplinary research team with the goal of finding out how much the "breathing" of forests affects global warming. The team plans to fly a small plane low over the forest canopy and use sensors to detect the gentle updraft produced by tree respiration. The velocity of this updraft will show the team how quickly the trees are scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide – an important greenhouse gas.

"Trees play a significant role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," Shepson said. "But we've never had a way to measure tree respiration over a wide swath of forest, and so we've never had a solid understanding of that role. We hope this unique airplane will change all that."

The project involves researchers from four different Purdue departments, and Shepson said it is a prime example of how interdisciplinary science can help us understand the world better.

CONTACT: Shepson, (765) 494-7441, pshepson@purdue.edu.