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The elusive structure and function of peatland fine roots

EMSL Project ID


Peatlands store one-third of the global soil organic carbon pool. Yet, the climate change responses of plant roots, which directly contact and shape this pool, remain elusive. We aim to estimate structural root trait responses to climate change (e.g. shifts in root architecture, diameter, length and depth) and test the impacts of these root structural changes on carbon cycle processes such as root exudation. We will use EMSL capabilities to quantify key structural root traits using X-ray computed tomography, and screen metabolites related to root exudation using NMR and LC-MS. Our samples will be taken at a peatland climate change experiment where five warming (+0, +2.25, +4.5, +6.75 and +9 °C) treatments are crossed with ambient and elevated CO2. Data generated through this project will directly contribute to improved belowground parameterization in process and Earth system models, which are severely lacking belowground data for peatlands. Through our goals of quantifying peatland fine root structure and function across a climate gradient, we will improve both the basic understanding of fine root contributions to peatland carbon cycling and enable more robust predictions of peatland and global soil carbon responses to climate change.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Avni Malhotra
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Team Members

Soren Weber
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Bram WG Stone
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory