48 - UNEXE

Prof. Walter Oechel

The University of Exeter
Exeter EX4
United Kingdom



Expertise and experience of the organization

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction at its campuses in Exeter and Cornwall. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has 21,273 students from more than 130 different countries. Exeter is ranked amongst the UK’s top 10 universities in the Higher Education league tables produced by the Times and the Sunday Times. It is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings. 


The College of Life and Environmental Sciences brings together the complementary disciplines of Biosciences, Geography, Psychology and Sport and Health Sciences to provide a rich and diverse interdisciplinary teaching and research portfolio.

Role in the project

UNEXE will contribute to WP2 and WP3 by providing new high spatial and temporal resolution temperature sensing systems to continuously monitor active layer depth, water table depth, and snow depth as well as the temperature profile and the zero curtain position, timing, and temperature, and eddy covariance data from five sites in Alaska. UNEXE will finish developing the soil diffusivity system using LGR analyzers, AlphaGuard 222Rn detector, and Membrana tubing to resolve soil and snow diffusivities, concentrations, and fluxes of CO2 and CH4.  This is a new system that promises to provide continuous, year-round data on CO2 and CH4 concentrations, fluxes, consumption, and/or production in remote areas.

Key personnel CVs

Prof. Walter Oechel (M) is Professor of Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter, UK. His research focuses on developing a predictive capability and understanding the impacts and feedbacks of terrestrial ecosystems on global change. He has studied the ecology, ecosystem function, and impacts of global change on Arctic ecosystems in Alaska, Canada, and Russia in the course of which he discovered that Arctic ecosystems of Alaska switched from a sink to a source of CO2 to the atmosphere as a result of climate warming (Oechel et al., 1993, 2000, 2014), and that the carbon balance of Arctic ecosystems acclimated to global warming (Oechel et al. 2000). In a recent paper (Zona et al. 2016), published in PNAS, he showed that 50% or more of the methane (CH4) from Arctic ecosystems was emitted during the cold season, and that drier upland tundra was a larger emitter of CH4 than inundated wetland tundra. He has also conducted work on climate change and ecosystems in Indonesia, Italy, France, Mexico, and California. His funding has exceeded £30 million over the last 30 years and he is a Highly Cited Researcher with over 250 ISI publications, more than 15,000 citations and an H index of >60. In 2015, he was identified as one of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters.

Publications, and/or products, services or other achievements

  1. Zona D, […],W. Oechel. 2016. Cold season emissions dominate the Arctic tundra methane budget. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(1):40-45.
  2. Zona D., Lipson D. A., Richards J. H., Phoenix G. K., Liljedahl A. K., Ueyama M., Sturtevant C. S., Oechel W. C., 2014. Delayed responses of an Arctic ecosystem to an extremely dry summer: impacts on net ecosystem exchange and vegetation functioning, Biogeosciences, 11, 5877–5888, doi:10.5194/bg-11-5877-2014.
  3. Ikawa, H and W.C. Oechel. 2011. Air-sea CO2 exchange of beach and near-coastal waters of the Chukchi Sea near Barrow, Alaska. Continental Shelf Research, 31 (13), 1357-1364.
  4. Oechel, W. C., C.A. Laskowski, G. Burba, B. Gioli, A. A.M. Kalhori. 2014. Annual patterns and budget of CO2 flux in an Arctic tussock tundra ecosystem. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 119 (3), 323-339.
  5. Oechel, W.C., G.L. Vourlitis, S.J. Hastings, R.C. Zulueta, L. Hinzman, and D. Kane. 2000. Acclimation of ecosystem CO2 exchange in the Alaskan Arctic in response to decadal climate warming. Nature. 406, 978-981.

Projects, and/or activities

  1. With NSF funding, Prof. Oechel developed the first university owned and operated EC flux aircraft anywhere in the world, the Sky Arrow 650TCN Environmental Research Aircraft for CO2, H2O, energy and latter CH4. 
  2. Prof. Oechel has developed new approaches and methodologies: Pioneer in the development of Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) facilities, use of natural CO2 springs in Iceland and in Italy.
  3. Prof. Oechel developed and employed for 7 years eddy covariance for marine fluxes of CO2, heat, and water vapor fluxes.  He has developed and employed pCO2 measurements for coastal marine, bay, and tropical river fluxes.  He also developed a boat based eddy covariance systems for measurement of CO2 fluxes based on the technology and approaches employed by the SDSU flux Sky Arrow.  This boat based eddy covariance system was successfully utilized in the Ph.D. program of Hiroki Ikawa for measurements in the San Diego Bay and the Point Loma Kelp Beds.
  4. Prof. Oechel helped to precipitate the NSF GK-12 program. He was PI on the NSF GK-12 project that put graduate and undergraduate science students in the classroom with K-12 teachers. The program used real time data and video from Baja California, California and Alaska to illustrate key climate, climate change, ecological, and scientific principles. The students of teachers that participated in PISCES showed improved test scores in standardized testing even after PISCES graduate students were no longer participating in the classroom.

Significant infrastructure, and/or major items of technical equipment

UNEXE has extensive staff and support for conducting this project.  All major equipment needed, not covered in the INTAROS budget, is available to the project at UNEXE or through collaborations with SDSU or other universities.  There is deep faculty expertise at UNEXE in climate change, peatlands, and the Arctic.  In addition, UNEXE hosts and has extensive expertise in a number of global and ecosystem models including the world class model LPJ.  UNEXE operates, in conjunction with SDSU, 5 eddy covariance towers (measuring CO2, CH4, H2O fluxes and energy balance) in the Alaskan Arctic including three at Barrow Alaska, one 100km south at Atqasuk and one 300km south of Barrow at Ivotuk.  UNEXE also operates diffusivity measuring equipment and high temporal and spatial measuring equipment at most tower sites in the Alaskan Arctic.