The ecosystem station (tower) is part of ICOS Belgium the Integrated Carbon Observing System. The objectives of ICOS are to decipher the greenhouse gas balance of Europe and to provide the long-term observations required to understand the present state and predict the future climate, the global carbon cycle and greenhouse gas emissions. ICOS has been recognized as a Landmark Research Infrastructure in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap that identifies new research infrastructures of pan-European interest corresponding to the long-term needs of the European research communities.
The Research Centre of Excellence Plant and Vegetation Ecology (PLECO) of the University of Antwerp (promotors Profs. R. Ceulemans and I. Janssens) is the host of the ICOS ecosystem station in the National Park Hoge Kempen. The station is operated and maintained by the technicians of PLECO. The construction of this ecosystem station in the National Park was made possible through funding by the Flemish Hercules Foundation.
The ICOS ecosystem tower measures the exchange of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O) between the heather vegetation and the atmosphere, as well as the meteorological variables air temperature, wind speed, air pressure and precipitation. Soil temperature and humidity are measured continuously at ground level. In addition, the concentrations of pollutants as ozone (O3) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) will be measured in the air. The results of the measurements are sent in near real time to the ECOTRON Hasselt University, closely linking the ICOS ecosystem station with the Field Research Centre of UHasselt. Although the heathland ecosystem is a prominent and valuable ecosystem in Western Europe, this is the first heathland location where greenhouse gases are monitored within the network of ICOS. The location was carefully selected (altitude: 84 m; latitude: 50° 59' 4,8" N; longitude: 5° 37' 38,4" E).