Department of Energy Prematurely Shutters Tropical Research Project

Published Jan 17, 2018

The Department of Energy is terminating the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiment – Tropics (NGEE-Tropics) research project about seven years ahead of schedule.

What Happened: The Department of Energy is terminating the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiment – Tropics (NGEE-Tropics) research project about seven years ahead of schedule.

Why it Matters: NGEE-Tropics seeks to answer how climate change will impact vulnerable tropical regions. Sixty peer-reviewed publications have used the project’s data to answer this question, but uncertainties remain and closing NGEE-Tropics seven years early threatens to severely reduce the amount of climate science data available to researchers. Researchers depend on continuous monitoring records and ongoing study in order to assess long-term trends in environmental changes that stand to impact people, especially in complex time-dependent fields like climate change. Abruptly cutting off this project will deprive the research community, global decisionmakers, and the public from needed understanding of climate impacts in the tropics and the chance to mitigate or adapt to it.

Following the widespread cuts outlined in President Trump’s FY2018 budget proposal of May 2017, lead researchers in the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiment – Tropics (NGEE-Tropics) project began telling their research partners that the project would end sometime the following year. Though Congress has not passed a budget for FY2018, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Climate and Environmental Sciences Division recently told reporters that funding for NGEE-Tropics will be cut off and the program closed nearly seven years before the scheduled termination date.

NGEE-Tropics, alongside of NGEE-Arctic, is a ten-year DOE effort to collect data on how climate change will impact the planet’s most vulnerable ecosystems. While tropical rainforests account for less than 7 percent of Earth’s surface area, they exchange a large amount of carbon dioxide, water, and energy and are consequently critical in predicting the worldwide effects of rising temperatures. So far, the data collected by NGEE-Tropics has been used in sixty peer-reviewed publications. Researchers ultimately aim to create a “process-rich tropical forest ecosystem model…in which the evolution and feedbacks of tropical ecosystems in a changing climate can be modeled.” The NGEE-Tropics team has released an initial version of this model, but the premature loss of government funding has forced its scientists to seek other sources of funding to continue their research.

Unlike NGEE-Tropics, DOE has allocated funds for NGEE-Arctic, though at diminished levels. Scientists of NGEE-Tropics claim this is because the arctic version of the program has direct relevance to American energy security. With a heavy presence in Alaska, NGEE-Arctic research indicates where climate change may reveal frozen oil or natural gas that could boost U.S. fossil fuel production, which the Trump Administration has made a priority.

This announcement aligns with the Trump Administration’s attacks on various federal projects and offices dedicated to climate change initiatives. Just last month, the White House removed climate change from a list of national security threats drafted by the Obama Administration. Furthermore, President Trump’s FY2018 budget proposal slashes climate research funding by at least 20 percent and redirects certain agencies’ research away from climate change entirely.