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UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS | INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER

People of IARC

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Taro Nakai

Research Assistant Professor Taro Nakai studies plant micrometeorology (forest climate and gas exchange at very small scales) and the methods available to scientists in the field. Nakai’s recent publications include papers on carbon dioxide flux measurement, improving and refining micrometeorology methods of measurement and analysis, and the evapotranspiration (gas exchange) that occurs in the black spruce forests of interior Alaska.

Contact Dr. Nakai

What might people find interesting about your current projects?

Much of my work involves collaboration with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and the use of the new (2009) JAMSTEC-IARC 17m research tower at the Poker Flat Research Range northeast of Fairbanks. Using this tower, we are able to conduct diverse and highly accurate analyses of gas and vapor, among many other important climate variables, and we can better determine how such variables should be incorporated into global climate models (GCMs).

Further, as part of a worldwide network of over 500 towers with similar features, we can access a great amount of data for comparison studies.

In particular, my recent projects have included measurements of the flow of heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide within the black spruce forests that overlay the permafrost of our Subarctic region. My recent work attempts to define the extent to which constant terrestrial-atmospheric exchange, or the “flux,” of heat and CO2 is affected and regulated by the forest itself (i.e., the plants that make it up).

For this, I have used a “big leaf model”—that is, a scaling method of considering the entire forest canopy as a single representative surface. This enables me to focus on a limited set of variables and more easily isolate features such as sensible heat flux (heat exchanged between the terrestrial surface and the atmosphere as part of ambient temperature change) and latent heat flux (energy exchange resulting in phase shifts, such as evaporation, transpiration, or condensation).

How long have you been interested in studying the vegetation of Alaska?

I have always been aware of science and its community since my childhood, because my father was a researcher in geophysics. So as a young person, I maintained this interest, especially in earth science. When I went to Hokkaido University in Japan, I was focused on nature and became quite interested in plants and the atmosphere.

What interests me the most currently are the aerodynamic effects of plants—that is, how they affect, and are affected by, the dynamics and movement of the air around them. It is important to understand, for example, how atmospheric turbulence is affected by surface roughness, including the density and shapes of trees and their leaves.

I first came to Fairbanks in 1999, and I recognized that not only is the Interior a very good place to conduct this kind of research, but its aesthetics, including its vast and open territory and the Aurora Borealis, drew me here as well.

The JAMSTEC-IARC 17m research tower at the Poker Flat Research Range (northeast of Fairbanks) that Nakai uses to conduct research. In the background dance the northern lights, which drew Nakai back to Fairbanks. (Photo: T. Nakai)
The JAMSTEC-IARC 17m research tower at the Poker Flat Research Range (northeast of Fairbanks) that Nakai uses to conduct research. In the background dance the northern lights, which drew Nakai back to Fairbanks. (Photo: T. Nakai)
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