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EMSL Selects Eight Projects for MONet Summer Soil Sampling

Soil cores will be collected and analyzed to generate data for the Molecular Observation Network  

Genoa Blankenship |
Mark Flury's research team collects soil samples at Douglas County Field site in Washington State.

Researchers with Mark Flury's team collect soil samples from a Molecular Observation Network soil sampling project site at Douglas County Field in Washington State. (Photo provided by Markus Flury | Washington State University Puyallup Research & Extension Center)

Eight researchers were recently selected to participate in summer soil sampling for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory’s Molecular Observation Network (MONet)

The awarded principal investigators and research teams will be collecting 84 soil samples this summer across the continental United States. Land use diversity for the selected projects includes forest, grass/shrub, tundra, tree cover, and cropland. 

After samples are collected, they will be sent to EMSL. Scientists at EMSL will analyze the samples using standardized workflows to generate data for the publicly available MONet database

EMSL, a Department of Energy, Office of Science user facility at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, developed MONet in 2023 to transform the understanding of soil processes by generating molecular and macroscale data and providing new tools for adapting to and counteracting climate change. The MONet database is designed to advance a new generation of Earth system process models that cover ecosystems across the United States. 

Researchers can submit MONet soil sampling proposals on a quarterly basis but are limited to one awarded MONet proposal per year. Proposal submissions for fall soil sampling will be accepted starting June 3. 

Meet the MONet summer sampling awardees. 

Tanya Cheeke Tanya Cheeke

Washington State University Tri-Cities 

Ecoregion: Pacific Northwest 

Land Use: Grass/Shrub 

Location: Washington State 

The Palouse prairie, an endangered ecosystem in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, is threatened with invasion by annual grasses, including Ventenata dubia. A research team led by Tanya Cheeke, an assistant professor of soil microbial ecology at Washington State University Tri-Cities, is investigating the impacts of V. dubia invasion on above- and below-ground communities, including arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. They set up field plots on Smoot Hill, an 800-acre biological reserve in Eastern Washington, where there are areas with high percent cover of V. dubia (invaded plots), intermediate percent cover of V. dubia (transition plots), and low percent cover of V. dubia (native plots). They collected data on plant community composition, percent cover of biological soil crusts, and mycorrhizal fungal inoculation potential from each plot. Through Cheeke’s MONet project, the team will submit samples to improve understanding about how soil biotic and abiotic properties may change with V. dubia invasion. This information will provide insights into how V. dubia invasion may affect soil processes and microbial metabolic activity in an endangered prairie. It will also help scientists understand if the restoration of soil biota communities is necessary after V. dubia invasion to restore soil function. 

Devin McMahon Devin McMahon

Umpqua National Forest, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service 

Ecoregion: Pacific Northwest 

Land Use: Forest 

Location: Glide, Oregon  

Wildfires affect ecological processes in the seasonally dry forests of western North America and similar global biomes. There is increasing interest in understanding the potential effects of wildfire and land management on soil microbial communities. 

In this MONet project led by U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ecologist Devin McMahon, researchers will collect and compare severely burned soils with soils in areas of little apparent fire impact in the Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range. This sampling will allow land managers to assess the effects of severe wildfire and postfire management on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties that the National Forest System could not otherwise measure. Soil analyses done at EMSL will provide microbial community data on the Umpqua National Forest to form a baseline for discussing the potential impacts of forest management. 

Sarah Evans Sarah Evans

Michigan State University 

Ecoregion: Great Lakes 

Land Use: Cropland 

Location: Hickory Corner, Michigan  

Sarah Evans, an associate professor at Michigan State University, is sampling agricultural land at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) to understand how agricultural management affects soil molecular properties. KBS is MSU’s largest off-campus education complex and a premier site for field experimental research in aquatic and terrestrial ecology that has diverse managed and unmanaged ecosystems. A main project goal is to advance the ability to link soil measurements to management decisions (tillage, cover crops, and perennials) and ecosystem service outcomes (soil health, trace gas flux, and soil carbon accumulation). 

Rae DeVan Rae DeVan

University of New Mexico 

Ecoregion: Desert Southwest 

Land Use: Grass/Shrub 

Location: Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico  

Arid lands make up more than a third of Earth’s terrestrial surface and contribute to shifts in carbon fluxes. Despite their importance, arid lands are poorly represented in ecosystem models. In a project led by Rae DeVan, a research assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, a team will study how changes in water availability during different seasons and changes in plant life cycles affect microbial activity and nutrient cycling. This is in relation to ecosystem productivity and respiration, which is currently monitored by eddy covariance flux towers. Scientists will sample at three dryland ecoregions in central New Mexico that are vulnerable to climate change to capture pulse-driven fluctuations in soil physical, chemical, and biological properties. The team aims to improve understanding of belowground contributions to ecosystem functioning. 

Yu (Frank) Yang  Yu Yang

University of Nevada, Reno 

Ecoregion: Tundra 

Land Use: Grass/Shrub 

Location: Unalaska, Alaska  

The thousands of formerly used defense sites (FUDS) pose challenges for the changing climate in the Arctic. In a project led by Yu (Frank) Yang, an environmental engineering professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, researchers will collect samples remotely from FUDS on Unalaska Island to characterize the molecular-level dynamics of soil organic carbon under climate change. Samples will be collected at both coastal and noncoastal sites under a variety of hydrobiogeochemical conditions, including aerobic, anaerobic, or aerobic–anaerobic transitions. The project goal is to understand the impact of climate change on the dynamics of soil organic carbon as well as its implications on the public health posed by FUDS. 

Heidi Renninger Heidi Renninger

Mississippi State University 

Ecoregion: Southeast 

Land Use: Tree Cover, Cropland 

Location: Algoma, Mississippi 

Eastern cottonwood is a species of short rotation woody crops with potential biomass and bioenergy applications including feedstocks for sustainable aviation fuels. These bioenergy crops also could replace fossil fuels and could be used for soil carbon sequestration. To understand the possibilities for carbon sequestration, carbon accrual rates need to be quantified, and soil carbon processes in short rotation woody crop fields need to be better understood. The study allows researchers to investigate soil microbial communities and processes to better understand the mechanisms of how tree physiology and genetic variability impact soil communities.  

Alexander (Xander) Takver Xander Takver

Oregon State University 

Ecoregion: Pacific Northwest 

Land Use: Tree Cover 

Location: Blue River, Oregon  

Hydraulic redistribution is the passive movement of water within soil through biological pathways (roots and fungi) from wetter areas to drier areas. When water moves from deep soil to upper soil zones, it can affect roots, biological activity, the physical and structural properties of soil, and a soil’s carbon dynamics. A research team led by Alexander (Xander) Takver, a National Science Foundation Distinguished Fellow from Oregon State University, is studying how hydraulic redistribution may change soil physical and biological properties, including nutrient dynamics, across two hillslopes. This will provide insight into the dynamic soil processes associated with variable water accessibility under drought conditions. 

Christine Foreman Christine Foreman

Montana State University 

Ecoregion: Northern Rockies 

Land Use: Grass/Shrub 

Location: Grinnell Glacier  

Grinnell Glacier, a 152-acre glacier in Glacier National Park in Montana, has been retreating since 1950 and is considered an iconic symbol of climate change. In response to the urgent need to understand a disappearing ecosystem of alpine systems, researchers have collected physical, hydraulic, and biological data from Grinnell Glacier and Cataract Creek Valley watersheds. In this MONet project, researchers, led by Christine Foreman, a professor at Montana State University, will collect samples and develop a two-dimensional sediment transport model that integrates flow regimes, environmental conditions, and the movement of particulates through these systems. They will model the movement of carbon and the microbial community. This project will provide insight into the effects of glacier loss and changes in runoff regimes to downstream ecological communities and ecosystem services.