Dr Richard Nair awarded SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship

Dr Richard Nair awarded SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship

RODEO: Root Dynamics for Ecosystem Observation is a SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship awarded to Dr Richard Nair. RODEO is an 8-year project where Richard and the interdisciplinary RODEO team will build on his previous work building instruments and AI methods to understand root phenology (seasonal cycles) and use this to understand the links between root and shoot phenology. Phenology is important because it affects how much CO2 is taken up by vegetation and thus how plant life can buffer climate change. But most phenology information is only above ground, so if the changing environment causes differences in root and leaf activity, we cannot understand this from above-ground observations only leading to uncertainty in future predictions. RODEO will allow the team to study the links between whole plant phenology and CO2 uptake and release under real field conditions, and help improve forecasts, adaptions, and management of climate change.


RootCheck: Image-Based Root Health Assessment Tools for Sustainable Agriculture

RootCheck is a SFI-funded National Challenge Fund project, led by Dr Richard Nair with co-PI Dr Saoirse Tracy at University College Dublin. Health and physiological syndromes can affect roots and leaves differently, but there are no tools to help assess root health under field conditions. Generally, roots are much more difficult to measure than leaves, but root health status may not be visible above-ground. RootCheck will develop new tools for rapid and non-destructive in-field assessment of root health status using a combination of cheap sensors and artificial intelligence methods. RootCheck will build an interdisciplinary team to approach this challenge with an end-user focus. The output of RootCheck will help ensure data parameterized agricultural systems, helping ensure long-term agricultural sustainability and productivity in uncertain future conditions.

Adam Bates attends the Power to the Peatlands conference, Antwerp, Belgium

Adam Bates attends the Power to the Peatlands conference, Antwerp, Belgium

On the 19-21 September, lab member Adam, a Research Assistant to the Dive2Store project, attended the Power to the Peatlands conference, held at the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Presenting a poster on Dive2Store’s recent fieldwork, Adam was able to discuss the ongoing study with peat experts from across Europe and beyond.

Rewetting, restoration, and conservation of peatlands are currently at the forefront of environmental concern in Ireland and Europe, with significant implications for climate goals and policy, relating to carbon stores, emissions, and mitigation.

Can we reverse climate change? By-product use for a sustainable future

An exciting collaboration is taking place between Trinity College Dublin’s TERRAFORM group and a research team at University College Dublin working on the “Crushed returned concrete as a soil amendment for carbon capture” project. Co-funded by iCRAG and Silicate, the project aims to investigate the potential of concrete application on agricultural soils as a negative emissions technology. A team of botanists and geologists from two leading Irish universities have joined forces to provide a holistic understanding of the potential of enhanced weathering to capture carbon, as well as any possible benefits for crops.
The project draws on silicate weathering, an ancient process that plays an important role in the Earth’s long-term carbon cycle, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and helping regulate the Earth’s climate over millions of years. Cations produced during rock weathering react with CO2 from the atmosphere and the reaction products are eventually stored deep in the ocean as carbonates.
The ancient silicate weathering process inspired the exploration of enhanced weathering as a negative emissions technology. The practice aims to accelerate weathering reactions in order to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and reduce the effects of global warming. It commonly involves crushing silicate rocks followed by application onto agricultural soils, where it has the added benefit of weathered rock acting as a fertilizer by providing nutrients to crops. This project is unique in that it aims to investigate the possibility of using an otherwise waste industrial product, concrete, as the reactant in this process, further streamlining the sustainability of enhanced weathering as a practice.
Pilot studies are in full swing on fields of barley and oat located in Co. Wexford. Dr Ruadhán MaGee and Leo Hickey, based at UCD, study the CO2 removal potential under field conditions. Terraform members, Dr Christos Chondrogiannis and Katie O’Dea investigate the impact of concrete application on crop physiology and yields.
Possible positive results yield multiple benefits including; 1) Enhanced weathering as a carbon negative emission technique, 2) Alternate use of crushed concrete, a waste by-product of construction industry, 3) use of rocks as a crop soil fertilizer.

Cycads Bring us Together

Facilitating an exciting investigation into photosynthesis.

An exciting collaboration is underway between the Variable Light and Atmosphere (VAL) lab, Trinity College Botanic Gardens and the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The VAL lab has borrowed a variety of Cycads from both botanic gardens. The plants hail from all three extant Cycad families including Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae, and Zamiaceae, capturing current diversity across the group.

Evolving around 280 million years ago, Cycads are an ancient group of gymnosperms. Often termed ‘living fossils’, these plants have existed since before the appearance of dinosaurs. Once dominating ancient ecosystems, todays Cycad species are limited to tropical and subtropical regions.

Borrowed Cycads have been acclimated to pre-set conditions within the state-of-the-art CONVIRON climate control chambers available at the VAL lab. Temperature, humidity and light spectra and intensity have been set to simulate the tropical environments in which today’s cycads reside.

Dr. Christos Chondrogiannis and Katie O’Dea from the ERC funded TERRAFORM project are studying photosynthetic characteristics of this unique group. The study aims to deeper understand the evolution of this iconic biological process which enables plants to synthesize energy from light.

The VAL lab would like to thank Trinity College Botanic Gardens and the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland for facilitating this research.

Siobhán McDonald captures landscapes at tipping points - The Boglands Are Breathing exhibition

'Siobhan McDonald communicate complex science in a visual way — reaching out to people with their heartstrings’

Siobhán’s latest exhibition – ‘The Boglands Are Breathing’ blends scientific and creative processes to make sculptures, videos, works on paper, paintings and sound pieces. The exhibition gathered numerous collaborators, bringing together scientists, conservators, musicians, philosophers, perfumers and celestial phenomena, all of whom collectively take part in the evolution of the work. Our shared boglands are positioned as the protagonists of an unseen drama, and this work makes visible the collective memory that is held in the rich repository that exists within the thin layer between the soil and the rocks.  An installation entitled ‘A library of lost smells,’ consisting of plant species, gathered from numerous bog sites across Ireland acts as a slow distillation of deep time created from plants and mineral-rich bog waters, that explores links between smell & memory. The installation holds an assortment of hand-blown glass bottles containing scents from eight of the most important notes. Some of the vessels contain scent-infused remnants that were buried deep in a bog for over 20 years alluding to the low oxygen levels and unusual smells derived from the preservation conditions.

Find out more about Siobhán’s exhibition, which took place at Model Arts Centre in Sligo, from the Irish Times article.

Click below to see the short documentary on the exhibition.

Second year of the monitoring program at Trinity College Botanic Garden

Trinity College Botanic Garden successfully run the second year of its long-term monitoring program

Trinity College Botanic Garden successfully run the second year of its long-term monitoring program. From the 26th to the 30th of June visiting researcher Midori Yajima, Dr Christos Chondrogiannis and research assistant Orla Banting daily measured trees’ physiological parameters in the garden, to add to the growing dataset to be used to assess tree responses to climate change in the long run. Lab analyses of trees’ ability to intercept particulate pollution are also underway, thanks to the collaboration with the iCRAG lab, and herbarium specimens are in the making for the year 2023, to be hosted in Trinity College Herbarium for future research questions. After the first year of testing the monitoring is growing into being a well-established project, attracting the interest from realities within and outside College.

Following the ethics of open science, all the resources for the monitoring have been published online in an accessible way, including protocols on the platform protocols.io, accessible through https://dx.doi.org/10.17504/protocols.io.dm6gpjdedgzp/v1data management in the database DMP online, and datasets in the Dryad database, accessible through https://datadryad.org/stash/dataset/doi:10.5061/dryad.b8gtht7h7, and will be regularly updated.

Antonietta Knetge Attends Specialised Training at University Claude Bernard

Antonietta Knetge Attends Specialised Training at University Claude Bernard

A member of our lab, PhD researcher Antonietta Knetge, has recently returned from two weeks of training with Prof. Bernard Gomez at the University Claude Bernard 1 in Lyon, France. 

From the training, she learned cuticle preparation techniques on Cretaceous fossil material. The training covered: the extraction of plant material from water-soluble sediment, sorting of dried plant material by taxa, chemical preparation, and dissection of foliar cuticle for light microscopy and SEM analysis. 

All materials prepared were from Cretaceous localities in France with a principal focus on gymnosperms and particularly the conifer Frenelopsis, to determine its habit and ecology.

'Carbon Dioxide Assimilation in Plants: from Genome to Biome' - Gordon's Research Conference 2023

Two of our lab members Prof. Jennifer McElwain and Dr. Christos Chondrogiannis had the privilege of attending a Gordons Research Conference (GRC) on the topic of photosynthesis from 7th – 12th of May 2023. The conference took place at Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, a tranquil estate nestled in the lush hilltops of Tuscany, Italy.

The conference, titled “CO2 Assimilation in Plants from Genome to Biome”, brought together researchers from leading labs, from PhDs making the first steps in their career to famous, well-established researchers of photosynthetic studies. The aim of the conference was to advance frontiers in the field of photosynthesis by showcasing cutting edge and unpublished research on a wide suite of plants, from rare species to widely cultivated crops. The rigorous discussions that happened between researchers informally were a highlight of the event. Fruitful discussions that stretched over lunch and well into the evening led to the genesis of new ideas and future collaborations.

Prof. Jennifer McElwain presented the final talk of the conference, titled ‘Reconstructing Terrestrial Ecosystem Function in Deep Time using Paleo-Plant Traits and Paleo-Ecosystem Modelling’. McElwain discussed the importance of accurate estimates and reconstructions of atmospheric CO2 through deep time. She also presented her idea of paleo-traits, the application of modern plant functional trait ecology within palaeobotany, which will enable reconstruction of plant activity in paleo-environments.

Dr. Christos Chondrogiannis presented a poster titled ‘Photosynthetic rate as a focal trait to assess plant weathering rate across evolutionary groups’, detailing how his chamber experiments aim to establish a correlation between photosynthesis and weathering rates and uncover information on how these processes interact. Chondrogiannis also had the pleasure of attending a workshop on the 6th of May, titled “Photosynthetic efficiency in a changing environment.”

EGU23 General Assembly - Vienna 2023

The EGU23 General Assembly was held in Vienna from 14-19 April 2023. Located on an island in the magical Danube, the warm and welcoming Austria Center Vienna welcomed the 15,453 attendees from 107 countries around the world. The conference was a great success, as 16,357 presentations were given in 938 different sessions.

TERRAFORM was represented by Christos Chondrogiannis, William Matthaeus and Richard Nair.

Christos Chondrogiannis gave an oral presentation in the session “Co-evolution of life and the Earth, and major transitions in Earth’s biosphere and environment” titled “TERRAFORM: Trait ecology and Biogeochemical cycles in deep time”. He presented the goals of TERRAFORM project, how plants affect the biogeochemical cycles, and how modern trait ecology can be implemented in the fossil record to inform us about plant activity in the deep time.

William Matthaeus had a poster titled “Moisture seasonality as a differential driver of modelled forest distribution during the Pennsylvanian” presenting part of his recent work. Specifically, by using the Paleo-BGC ecosystem process model, he showed simulation evidence supporting the long-held inference that moisture seasonality explains the spatial distribution of the major plant types of the late Paleozoic ice age.

Finally, Richard Nair, presented a poster titled “Day-night root dynamics change through the growing season”, where he showed shifts in the diurnal pattern of root growth during the growing season. Richard, was also a co-convener at the session titled “Vegetation functional responses to global change across multiple methods and scales” and presented during the townhall meeting for the CLEANFOREST EU COST action.

Many participants were interested in the work of the attending TERRAFORM members, with a high level of engagement around the presentations. In addition, the members of the group had the opportunity to attend presentations related to their research interests. At the same time, fruitful discussions and acquaintances with emerging and distinguished scientists took place.

The 33rd Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland

The 33rd Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland

The 33rd Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland, Environ Researchers Colloquium took place from 3 – 5 April 2023. The focus of the conference was ‘Evidence and Plans Towards a Transitions to a Sustainable Future’. Over 200 researchers attended, with a diverse suite of talks and workshops featured over the few days. The conference was kicked off with workshops in sustainability careers, career development and a trip to Glenveagh National Park. The jam packed schedule of presentations was kicked off by plenary speaker Prof Rick Relyea who spoke on ‘Understanding, predicting, and mitigating human impacts for a sustainable future’. There were a large number of focused groups of presentations on topics such sensor technologies, outreach and public engagement, education, policy, marine, climate in balance, wetlands and energy solutions to name a few.
Katie O’Dea of the Plant Climate Lab presented a poster on how the TERRAFORM weathering experiments will contribute to climate sciences, particularly the application of silicate weathering as a negative emissions technology (NET).