The project

Overview

The ExCO is a natural ecosystem field laboratory, through which students, academics and wider society are able to explore and learn about the role that terrestrial ecosystems play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the effects of climate change on the stability of carbon uptake and storage in these systems. The ExCO is expected to contribute to the development of Exeter students by improving the quality of research-based teaching, enhancing student’s employability in environment-related jobs and increasing student’s satisfaction through regular access to the field; fieldwork is almost always the most popular element of our courses. The ExCO has the support of Exeter University’s Annual Fund and Education Enhancement through their environmental sustainability strategy, which aims to embed environmental sustainability within School education policies, strategies and the curriculum, based on the perception of “Campus as a living laboratory”. The focus of the ExCO on building regional capacity to understand carbon cycling contributes to the University of Exeter’s Climate Emergency Declaration.
 

Aims

Create the ExCO training centre in a locality with easy access from the University of Exeter allowing the use of the outdoor laboratory during both existing and new modules to support the University’s Education for Sustainable Development initiative. Implement a series of long-term continuous climate and carbon flux measurements, at the site, providing students with an excellent resource for data analysis.

Specifically, we aim to use the site:

  • for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research through the University of Exeter.
  • to improve understanding of regional carbon cycling, including carbon sequestration in regrowing forests.
  • for the dissemination of Exeter’s research results to the wider community.

The initial grant funded running the site continuously for three years and we are now seeking funding from partner organisations for the further development and long-term operation of the ExCO. Our long-term aim is to add international scope by facilitating students developing comparative studies from ExCO with our partners at international field sites which use the same field methodologies, e.g., with the Geography undergraduate field trip to the Atlantic forest in Brazil with partners from the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense Darcy Ribeiro.  

Sites

We have initially selected 4 suitable sites (below). In the current stage of the project, we are implementing our measurements at Stoke Woods. This is a site at a walking distance from Streatham Campus, owned by the Forestry Commission. The site is being installed with the support of the School of Geography researchers and volunteer students.

Fig 1. Potential sites for implementation of the ExCO. Stoke Woods is shown in greater detail using the Forestry Commission map of the area.

Broad Relevance

The creation of the ExCO was inspired on the need to better understand the impacts of anthropogenic carbon emissions on global climate. Furthermore, we believe that there is a need to cope with an increasing demand for professionals in this field. This will permit the long-term sustainability of the United Kingdom’s leading position in climate change research by offering high-quality training for students in understanding, monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and removal mechanisms and discussing climate change issues at an international level. 

Given the expertise already present in Exeter, we have the opportunity to build our teaching in this area. Teaching related to climate change is not only important but is also known to be attractive to undergraduate and masters students. The aims of setting up the ExCO are also aligned with the goals of the University’s Climate Change and Sustainable Futures (CCSF) theme in terms of developing teaching in this area, as well as the Masters programmes at the University of Exeter.

Beneficiaries

This project aims to benefit the University of Exeter and its students and academics working on environmental issues. Each year approximately 10 academic staff, plus around 90 undergrads and 15 postgrads students from the School of Geography, will be involved in activities in the ExCO site. 

We expect that students and community stakeholders involved with the University’s Education for Environmental Sustainability strategy will also directly benefit from this initiative.

The ExCO will provide the opportunity for more interactive, hands-on experience promoting high-quality training in professional areas with increasing employability levels in the national and international markets, including renowned programmes such as the United Nations Environment and Development Programs (UNEP and UNDP, respectively) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (see a sample of job offers in environmental subjects).

The result is that students will have real practical experience of understanding the carbon cycle and therefore a greater understanding of the key issues of climate change within their BSc degree and Master courses. They will learn about instrumentation, methods and data analysis in order to quantify the long-term potential of natural systems to sequester atmospheric carbon, to evaluate the potential effects of climate and environmental change on natural systems and ultimately be prepared to think about solutions, influencing policymakers and communicating the most pressing climate change issues to a wide audience.

Students will also have this facility available in combination with the School of Geography field monitoring instruments for the development of dissertations projects and masters theses. Despite being centred on carbon dynamics, this will be an interdisciplinary open laboratory for students and the academic community within the University of Exeter. Thus, it is anticipated that complementary research-led teaching in the field such as surveying, image and spatial analysis with a GIS system (taught to all 2nd year BSc students), biogeography, hydrology, and water quality will also be undertaken at the ExCO site.