Fund for Climate Solutions awards five new grants

From the Arctic to the tropics, the 2024 winter cohort of FCS projects fills information gaps to produce actionable insights

Two researchers installing an eddy covariance flux tower

Researchers installing an eddy covariance tower, which measures carbon emissions from the land.

photo by Jessica Howard

The first round of 2024 Fund for Climate Solutions (FCS) awardees has been announced. The FCS advances innovative, solutions-oriented climate science through a competitive, internal, and cross-disciplinary funding process. Generous donor support has enabled us to raise more than $10 million towards the FCS, funding 63 research grants since 2018. The latest cohort of grantees includes five projects addressing key information gaps in climate science to produce actionable insights, from quantifying understudied carbon emissions in the Arctic and the Amazon to predicting drought in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Research area
a brown river flows through green, grassy tundra into a part of the land where large-scale erosion has eaten away a huge chunk of the land surface, washing it downstream

A retrogressive thaw slump in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

photo by Scott Zolkos

Quantifying large greenhouse gas emissions from a retrogressive thaw slump in Alaska

Lead: Jennifer Watts
Collaborators: Kyle Arndt, Patrick Murphy

Retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS) are extreme permafrost thaw landscape features, which occur when a section of ice-rich permafrost becomes warm enough to cause the ground ice to melt and soils to collapse. Once they start, RTS continue to expand and destroy nearby permafrost for months to years. Many RTS have been identified, but because they are often in extremely remote arctic locations, very little is known about the potentially substantial carbon emissions from RTS in the form of carbon dioxide and methane. This study will provide the first continuous measurements of carbon emissions from a RTS, collected over at least a year via an eddy covariance tower. The research is also supported by an equipment loan provided through the U.S. Department of Energy AmeriFlux Rapid Response program, which recognized this project as a valuable opportunity to advance science. The data collected will also serve as a “proof of concept” for a subsequent $1.3M proposal to the National Science Foundation for continued research at the site.

a researcher sits in a boat with two other people, and leans over the side to adjust a scientific instrument floating on a white piece of flat material on top of the water

Zoë Dietrich deploys an autonomous floating chamber at Tanguro Research Station in Brazil.

photo by Sarah Ruiz

Assessing the impacts of ecosystem disturbance on carbon emissions from Arctic and Amazon ponds

Lead: Elchin Jafarov
Collaborators: Zoë Dietrich, Andrew Mullen, Jackie Hung, Marcia Macedo, Kathleen Savage

Freshwater ecosystems are significant sources of the greenhouse gases that persist in the atmosphere and contribute to warming. However, research is lacking an understanding of how disturbances like wildfire and agriculture can change these emissions. This project will address these information gaps by collecting measurements of carbon emissions from ponds, using autonomous floating chambers developed with funding from a previous FCS grant. With this new high-resolution data, the team will unlock the ability to predict year-round greenhouse gas emissions from ponds in the Arctic and the Amazon. Floating chambers will be deployed in ponds in Alaska affected by wildfires, and in agricultural reservoirs in the Amazon-Cerrado frontier. In both locations, the ability to take more frequent measurements of carbon emissions will help researchers improve models and better assess the ponds’ impacts on regional carbon budgets.

three young researchers wearing face masks stand in the arctic tundra, surrounded by green grass. Each holds a different piece of science equipment, including a field journal, a manual auger, and a thermometer.

Students who participated in the Polaris Project in 2023 conducted research in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

photo by Logan Berner

The Polaris Project: Data synthesis from almost two decades of research and student participation

Lead: Nigel Golden
Collaborator: Sue Natali

Established in 2008, the Polaris Project has earned global recognition for its leadership in Arctic research, education, and outreach. Through the commitment to providing students with hands-on experience, Polaris has enabled numerous publications and presentations. Polaris is approaching a critical juncture in the next funding cycle, and this project will complete the first-ever comprehensive synthesis of Polaris Project research to help sustain Woodwell Climate’s sole undergraduate research program. By consolidating past research and educational achievements, the team will create a data synthesis paper to be submitted to a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific research journal, as well as a retrospective analysis of undergraduates’ research experiences with Polaris to be submitted to an education research journal. The team will also launch an online communications piece that documents past Polaris participants’ field experiences and unique journeys with a variety of narrative and artistic communications styles and elements.

Sampling the Santuit River

Sampling the Santuit River in Massachusetts.

photo by Zander Nassikas

Determining the climate sensitivity of coastal rivers to guide ecosystem restoration across SE Massachusetts

Lead: Abra Atwood
Collaborators: Marcia Macedo, Chris Neill, Linda Deegan, Scott Zolkos

Coastal rivers, like those that flow into Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, are fragile environments that serve critical ecological functions for native fish, downstream estuaries, and coastal wetlands. Different rivers are uniquely sensitive to changes in air temperature based on a variety of characteristics, such as their water source or shade. However, land use changes, including housing development and cranberry bogs, have affected key river characteristics and stream temperatures. This project will investigate MA coastal rivers’ sensitivity to changing air temperature, as well as how that sensitivity is affected by both connection to groundwater and the creation or restoration of cranberry bogs. The temperature sensors and geochemical analyses used in this research may be scalable beyond these rivers and yield insights to inform research approaches relevant to rivers around the world.

a room full of people sit at a u-shaped table, looking at a projected image of maps on the wall

Woodwell Climate hosted a workshop with the DRC’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, inviting input from Congolese professors, scientists, and government officials on a draft climate risk to resilience report. The final report was released at COP28.

photo by Dave McGlinchey, Abby Fennelly

A drought early warning system for the DRC: Developing a seasonal forecast based on novel machine learning approaches

Lead: Carlos Dobler-Morales
Collaborators: Christopher Schwalm, Glenn Bush

Seasonal weather forecasts hold immense potential to improve risk management from agricultural failure, water stress, and extreme events. However, significant advances in technical forecasting capabilities remain largely unavailable to communities without the resources to develop or customize them for their region. In 2023, Woodwell Climate Just Access co-produced a national climate risk assessment with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. That report identified drought as a major climate threat to the DRC—one which stands to affect almost the entire country. In response, this project will develop a seasonal drought forecasting model tailored to the DRC using cutting-edge machine-learning methods. The forecast will be able to deliver precise rainfall anomaly predictions up to six months in advance for the whole country, and serve as an early warning system to help local people and decision-makers anticipate the impacts of escalating drought risk.


Learn more about the Fund for Climate Solutions.