New lab allows scientists to test impacts of climate change in precisely controlled infrastructure
Posted on: 06 February 2024
Scientists in Ireland are now able to study the impacts of past, current and future climate change in precisely controlled climatic and atmospheric conditions.
This is thanks to the launch of a new Variable Atmospheric and Light (VAL) laboratory, which was unveiled at Trinity College Dublin.
VAL will be available to scientists with expertise in different disciplines, whose work requires the specific control of light, atmosphere and climate conditions to run experiments that will assess the impacts of those factors with unprecedented specificity.
For example, VAL will enable a research group led by Jennifer McElwain, Professor of Botany at Trinity, to investigate the effect of a changing Earth day length over geological time on plant physiology, and to examine how different plant evolutionary groups influence how the vegetation of the planet removes excess greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
Additionally, researchers from Maynooth University led by Dr John Devany will undertake experiments with SFI and DAFM-funded research in September 2024 to investigate the effects of a year 2050 and end of century climate on native Irish woodlands.
And David McCloskey, Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Physics, and his energy science research team, are using the climate chambers to test the efficiency of newly designed solar panels in a South African climate.
Inside the Variable Atmospheric and Light laboratory, with plants lit up by LEDs.
VAL has been funded via the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Infrastructure call and in part by Trinity. Initially successful in 2015 the project has been delayed due to a long manufacturing process and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcoming the launch of VAL, Professor Jennifer McElwain said: “We are delighted to launch the Variable Atmosphere and Light laboratory. We need major infrastructure such as this to do excellent science and to collaborate with other institutions and disciplines, and it would not be possible without the major investment by SFI and by Trinity college Dublin.
“VAL offers us the chance to simulate an environment with tremendous precision, which means we can pose a plethora of climate-related questions under varying conditions. Essentially, this fine-tuning control means we can simulate current conditions pretty much anywhere in the world and bring them to the lab in Trinity, as well as travelling back and forward in time when conditions were or will be different.
“The results from these experiments will give us a much greater degree of confidence in predicting what will happen under varying future climate scenarios, which promises to help us plan ahead better for what is to come.”
Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “We welcome the launch of the Variable Atmosphere and Light (VAL) laboratory to spearhead pioneering research in climate change. The Research Infrastructure programme is designed to support state-of-the-art equipment to drive excellent and high impact research, and facilitate transformative collaborations such as the VAL laboratory."