Vielsalm ICOS station: 25 years of analysis of gas exchanges between forest and atmosphere

Ceremony on Wednesday 27 October 2021

In Research Projet de recherche

UCLouvain and ULiège are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Vielsalm measurement station. Founded in 1996, it is one of the oldest greenhouse gas exchange measurement stations in Europe. In the autumn of 2020, it was awarded the prestigious Ecosystem label by the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) network. To celebrate this anniversary and this label, a ceremony was held on Wednesday 27 October 2021.

"For a quarter of a century, this station has been providing scientists and decision-makers with very high-precision data", emphasises Caroline Vincke, professor at the Faculty of Bioengineering of the UCLouvain and head of the Vielsalm station since 2014.

Thanks to a 50-metre high flow tower, the station measures, among other things, the exchange of CO2 and water vapour between the atmosphere and this forest ecosystem composed of beech, Douglas, fir and spruce trees every 30 minutes. Other data collected in the air, soil and vegetation help to understand what influences these flows.

Over the past 25 years, numerous university research projects have been carried out thanks to the measurements carried out at Vielsalm, in particular concerning the carbon sequestration of this forest and its resilience to climatic events or biotic attacks.

The UCLouvain and ULiège have thus demonstrated that this forest ecosystem behaves like a fairly stable carbon sink, with the beech trees absorbing an average of 411gC/m2/year and the Douglas 813gC/m2/year. "In other words, says Caroline Vincke, one hectare of this forest offsets the CO2 emissions of a conventional car driven 116 000 kilometres."

The network's strengths

The ICOS network has 140 stations (atmospheric, oceanic or ecosystems) spread over 14 European countries. There are 10 in Belgium, including 3 in Wallonia: in Lonzée, in Dorinne and in Vielsalm. These Walloon stations are managed by a consortium composed of the ULiège (coordinator), the UCLouvain, the ISSeP (Scientific Institute of Public Service) and the CRA-W (Walloon Agricultural Research Centre).

"Belonging to such a network has several advantages, says Bernard Heinesch, professor at the Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech faculty (ULiège) and coordinator of the Walloon network of stations. In particular, it allows us to take part in projects in partnership with other European players and to pool the data we collect to carry out studies on a continental scale." At the end of 2020, for example, a vast study, published in the Royal Society journal, looked at the impacts of the 2018 drought, based on the measurements recorded in the various European ICOS sites, including the Vielsalm station.


Pr Bernard Heinesch

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