Daniel Beverly, Indiana University Bloomington – How Several Minutes of Darkness Can Impact the Environment

On Indiana University’s Total Solar Eclipse Week: How will the natural world react to the total solar eclipse?

Daniel Beverly, postdoctoral researcher at the O’Neill School of Public Environmental Affairs, examines this.

Daniel Beverly is a Postdoctoral Research fellow at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington.
He received his PhD in Hydrological Sciences (focusing on Ecological Hydrology) from the University of Wyoming and a master of science in biology from the University of Northern Colorado. His research focuses on improving predictions of plant and ecosystem productivity through the use of hydrological and ecophysiological first principles. His work bridges leaf, whole-plant, and ecosystem processes by leveraging diverse empirical datasets and novel modeling approaches.

How Several Minutes of Darkness Can Impact the Environment

During the 2017 solar eclipse, I worked in Wyoming, within the path of totality. I saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse and also to measure how two minutes of darkness can impact the environment.

As a plant ecophysiologist, I study how plants and ecosystems respond to environmental change. A total solar eclipse is a great opportunity to shade an entire ecosystem and learn from that moment. We often can do that in a greenhouse, but we don’t often get to do it on the ecosystem scale. 

During the last solar eclipse we saw a major disruption in the circadian processes of plants. Plants, similar to humans and animals, have a daily routine and regulate their biochemistry accordingly. When the moon blocked the midday sun, the plants behaved as if it was time for bed. But when the light returned just a few minutes later, they essentially went into shock. The rapid transition from dark to light threw off photochemical signals and reduced the photosynthetic potential for several hours following the event. Thinking of plants as having similar rhythms to us with respect to sleep and daily routines was very surprising.

For the upcoming soklar eclipse, we plan to capture data in a similar way, and we will address questions surrounding how the solar eclipse alters forest and tree water movement. As the eclipse darkens the sky we will hopefully be able to disentangle how temperature and light influence water as both are important processes driving transpiration and photosynthesis.