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Courses in Complexity


Design and Scientific Merit of the Variable Atmosphere Laboratory (VAL)

February 23 – 24, 2008
At The Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, ASU
Funded by:

National Science Foundation
ASU Global Institute of Sustainability
ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration
ASU School of Life Sciences

View Gallery of Workshop

Our understanding of the effects of climate change on the earth’s biotas and human health is crucial to our efforts to maintain a sustainable planet. The changing composition of the earth’s atmosphere is a major control on both biology and earth processes. Rising CO2levels, increased UV radiation, elevation in trace pollutants,
and changing global temperatures have profound effects on the earth’s plants, animals, microbes and inorganic materials, including earlier timing of spring events, poleward shifts in organismal range limits, and increases in abundances of high-latitude/altitude organisms Currently, research on such effects is limited to small
and short-term laboratory or difficult-to-control and replicate field experiments.

We propose the creation of a large scale Variable Atmosphere Laboratory (VAL)
with multiple units (approximately 50 terrestrial and 20 aquatic “mini-worlds”) in which atmospheric composition, temperature, humidity, UV radiation, atmospheric pressure and light cycle can be controlled. Creation of VAL would provide the U.S.A. with the premier facility for experimental analysis of the effects of past, current, and future climate change, and would provide critical information for policy makers.

Major research facilities are expensive, and can only be justified if they will strongly advance multiple fields of science, and be adaptable for testing hypotheses that have yet to be conceived. One of the biggest advantages of VAL will be its flexibility. The “miniworlds” will be generic “plug and play” units that can be adapted to any set of environmental conditions of interest to the investigator. The standard “miniworld”
(either terrestrial or aquatic) will be able to control oxygen, CO2, nitrogen, temperature, humidity, light, and UV radiation. Additionally, gas distribution systems
will allow investigator-specific investigation of a wide range of minor gases, such as common trace gas pollutants (e.g. ozone, sulfur gases, methane, and nitroxes). A subset of units will be built to accommodate extremely high and low temperatures and pressures as well. This generic design will allow VAL to address fundamental questions in biology, geology, paleontology, astrobiology and environmental medicine.

The purpose of the workshop is to gather diverse, expert opinion on the design and construction of VAL, with a special emphasis on the identification of:1) the most important scientific problems that cannot currently be addressed in a cost-effective manner without VAL, and 2) key design features necessary for the success of VAL.

View Participants, CVs, and BIOs

Related files:

VAL Summary Presentation (.ppt)

Original Workshop Funding Proposal (.pdf)

Click Here for the Agenda (*.doc)

Hotel Reservation Information:

Twin Palms Tempe AZ (*.pdf)

Hosts/Contacts: (Click to email)

Jon Harrison

John Vanden Brooks


National Science Foundation
ASU Global Institute of Sustainability
ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration
ASU School of Life Sciences