Tea time 4 science

You’re invited to take part in a unique citizen science experience that’s collecting uniform decomposition data across ecosystems worldwide. Grab a cuppa and read on…

Decomposition is an important process for life on earth and global change as it produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Changes in the balance between soil carbon storage and release can significantly amplify or attenuate global warming. Although a lot of progress has been made in determining potential drivers of carbon release through large-scale decomposition experiments, climate predictions are still hampered by data limitation at a global scale as a result of high effort and measurement costs of comparative litter decomposition studies.

To measure decomposition, researchers from Sweden’s Umea University and Utrecht University in The Netherlands have come up with an innovative, cost-effective, well-standardised method to gather data on decomposition rate and litter stabilisation using ordinary tea bags.

Two types of plastic tea bags (green and rooibos) with contrasting decomposability are placed in the soil and weight loss is determined after three months. Their decomposition is indicative for a two-phased decomposition model called the Tea Bag Index (TBI), consisting of two parameters describing decomposition rate (k) and litter stabilisation factor (S).

The standardisation and simplicity of the method make it possible to collect comparable, globally distributed data through crowdsourcing. TBI can further provide an excellent decomposition reference and has the potential to increase reliability of soil carbon flux estimates based on extrapolations of decomposition data.

The project has two main goals: 1) to make a soil map of decomposition; and 2) to use the data obtained from scientific networks and crowdsourcing experiments worldwide, compare effects of climate.

TERN is joining and you can too!

We’re joining in on the fun and will be planting tea bags at many of our research sites around the country next summer.  Keep an eye out in future editions of TERN eNewsletter to stay up with the project and results.

  • No costs associated. You will be provided with tea.
  • Plant your tea bags at the start of summer (December 2016) and dig them up in March 2017 then dry and weigh them.
  • Bury at least 3 replicates per location.
  • Share your data on simple environmental characteristics such as GPS location, vegetation information and soil type.

Read more about the Tea Bag Index in a recently published paper in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

To register your interest please contact Judith Sarneel 

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