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Lapenas Leads Project Developing a New Gauge of Climate Change

Newly developed sensors in trees, developed by NSF-funded project led by Andrei Lapenas, will determine carbohydrate levels, whose changes may indicate the effects of temperature, carbon dioxide and other environmental influences.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 6, 2015) — UAlbany climatologist Andrei Lapenas is the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored project that converts a sensor originally designed to measure levels of the carbohydrate glucose in humans before kidney transplants, into one that can detect climate change.

The tiny new sensors are being called "Nanaphids," named after the small garden insect aphid, and they will be implanted into trees, where they will monitor carbohydrate levels. Since carbohydrate levels in trees are directly connected to plant productivity, shifting levels can indicate the effects of temperature, carbon dioxide and other environmental influences.

"This new sensor will be used in several field experiments on measuring sensitivity of boreal forest to climate warming,” said Lapenas, an associate professor in UAlbany’s Department of Geography and Planning. “Questions about forest response to rising air and soil temperatures are extremely important for forecasting future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, climate change and forest health.”

Additional application of the sensor technology could be applied to use in agriculture, the food industries, and other fields. “We already see some potential commercial application,” Lapenas noted. In New York State, for instance, the sensors could be applied to provide insight into maple syrup production and apple and grape farming.

The project, with total funding of $837,000 from the NSF’s Instrument Development for Biological Research program, is being conducted jointly by UAlbany, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Boston University.

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