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John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

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Future soil moisture and temperature extremes imply expanding suitability for rainfed agriculture in temperate drylands

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:58

The distribution of rainfed agriculture, which accounts for approximately ¾ of global croplands, is expected to respond to climate change and human population growth and these responses may be especially pronounced in water limited areas. Because the environmental conditions that support rainfed agriculture are determined by climate, weather, and soil conditions that affect overall and transient water availability, predicting this response has proven difficult, especially in temperate regions that support much of the world’s agriculture. Here, we show that suitability to support rainfed agriculture in temperate dryland climates can be effectively represented by just two daily environmental variables: moist soils with warm conditions increase suitability while extreme high temperatures decrease suitability. 21st century projections based on daily ecohydrological modeling of downscaled climate forecasts indicate overall increases in the area suitable for rainfed agriculture in temperate dryland regions, especially at high latitudes. The regional exception to this trend was Europe, where suitability in temperate dryland portions will decline substantially. These results clarify how rising temperatures interact with other key drivers of moisture availability to determine the sustainability of rainfed agriculture and help policymakers, resource managers, and the agriculture industry anticipate shifts in areas suitable for rainfed cultivation.

Improving predictions of tropical forest response to climate change through integration of field studies and ecosystem modeling

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 10/03/2017 - 11:15

Tropical forests play a critical role in carbon and water cycles at a global scale. Rapid climate change is anticipated in tropical regions over the coming decades and, under a warmer and drier climate, tropical forests are likely to be net sources of carbon rather than sinks. However, our understanding of tropical forest response and feedback to climate change is very limited. Efforts to model climate change impacts on carbon fluxes in tropical forests have not reached a consensus. Here, we use the Ecosystem Demography model (ED2) to predict carbon fluxes of a Puerto Rican tropical forest under realistic climate change scenarios. We parameterized ED2 with species-specific tree physiological data using the Predictive Ecosystem Analyzer workflow and projected the fate of this ecosystem under five future climate scenarios. The model successfully captured interannual variability in the dynamics of this tropical forest. Model predictions closely followed observed values across a wide range of metrics including aboveground biomass, tree diameter growth, tree size class distributions, and leaf area index. Under a future warming and drying climate scenario, the model predicted reductions in carbon storage and tree growth, together with large shifts in forest community composition and structure. Such rapid changes in climate led the forest to transition from a sink to a source of carbon. Growth respiration and root allocation parameters were responsible for the highest fraction of predictive uncertainty in modeled biomass, highlighting the need to target these processes in future data collection. Our study is the first effort to rely on Bayesian model calibration and synthesis to elucidate the key physiological parameters that drive uncertainty in tropical forests responses to climatic change. We propose a new path forward for model-data synthesis that can substantially reduce uncertainty in our ability to model tropical forest responses to future climate.

Flow and Residence Times of Dynamic River Bank Storage and Sinuosity-Driven Hyporheic Exchange

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 14:03

Hydrologic exchange fluxes (HEFs) vary significantly along river corridors due to spatio-temporal changes in discharge and geomorphology. This variability results in the emergence of biogeochemical hot-spots and hot-moments that ultimately control solute and energy transport and ecosystem services from the local to the watershed scales. In this work, we use a reduced-order model to gain mechanistic understanding of river bank storage and sinuosity-driven hyporheic exchange induced by transient river discharge. This is the first time that a systematic analysis of both processes is presented and serves as an initial step to propose parsimonious, physics-based models for better predictions of water quality at the large watershed scale. The effects of channel sinuosity, alluvial valley slope, hydraulic conductivity, and river stage forcing intensity and duration are encapsulated in dimensionless variables that can be easily estimated or constrained. We find that the importance of perturbations in the hyporheic zone's flux, residence times, and geometry is mainly explained by two dimensionless variables representing the ratio of the hydraulic time constant of the aquifer and the duration of the event (¬d) and the importance of the ambient groundwater flow (ðh*). Our model additionally shows that even systems with small sensitivity, resulting in small changes in the hyporheic zone extent, are characterized by highly variable exchange fluxes and residence times. These findings highlight the importance of including dynamic changes in hyporheic zones for typical HEF models such as the transient storage model.

Range position and climate sensitivity: The structure of among-population demographic responses to climatic variation

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 08/24/2017 - 13:36

Species’ distributions will respond to climate change based on the relationship between local demographic processes and climate and how this relationship varies based on range position. A rarely tested demographic prediction is that populations at the extremes of a species’ climate envelope (e.g., populations in areas with the highest mean annual temperature) will be most sensitive to local shifts in climate (i.e., warming). We tested this prediction using a dynamic species distribution model linking demographic rates to variation in temperature and precipitation for wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) in North America. Using long-term monitoring data from 746 populations in 27 study areas, we determined how climatic variation affected population growth rates and how these relationships varied with respect to long-term climate. Some models supported the predicted pattern, with negative effects of extreme summer temperatures in hotter areas and positive effects on recruitment for summer water availability in drier areas. We also found evidence of interacting temperature and precipitation influencing population size, such as extreme heat having less of a negative effect in wetter areas. Other results were contrary to predictions, such as positive effects of summer water availability in wetter parts of the range and positive responses to winter warming especially in milder areas. In general, we found wood frogs were more sensitive to changes in temperature or temperature interacting with precipitation than to changes in precipitation alone. Our results suggest that sensitivity to changes in climate cannot be predicted simply by knowing locations within the species’ climate envelope. Many climate processes did not affect population growth rates in the predicted direction based on range position. Processes such as species-interactions, local adaptation, and interactions with the physical landscape likely affect the responses we observed. Our work highlights the need to measure demographic responses to changing climate.

Tropical rainforest carbon sink declines during El Niño as a result of reduced photosynthesis and increased respiration rates

Powell Center Working Group Products - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 09:23
  • Changes in tropical forest carbon sink strength during El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events can indicate future behavior under climate change. Previous studies revealed ˜6 Mg C ha-1 yr-1 lower net ecosystem production (NEP) during ENSO year 1998 compared with non-ENSO year 2000 in a Costa Rican tropical rainforest. We explored environmental drivers of this change and examined the contributions of ecosystem respiration (RE) and gross primary production (GPP) to this weakened carbon sink.
  • For 1998-2000, we estimated RE using chamber-based respiration measurements, and we estimated GPP in two ways: using (1) the canopy process model MAESTRA, and (2) combined eddy covariance and chamber respiration data. MAESTRA-estimated GPP did not statistically differ from GPP estimated using approach 2, but was ˜ 28% greater than published GPP estimates for the same site and years using eddy covariance data only.
  • A 7% increase in RE (primarily increased soil respiration) and a 10% reduction in GPP contributed equally to the difference in NEP between ENSO year 1998 and non-ENSO year 2000.
  • A warming and drying climate for tropical forests may yield a weakened carbon sink from both decreased GPP and increased RE. Understanding physiological acclimation will be critical for the large carbon stores in these ecosystems.

Dam removal: Listening in

Powell Center Working Group Products - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:35

Dam removal is widely used as an approach for river restoration in the United States. The increase in dam removals--particularly large dams--and associated dam-removal studies over the last few decades motivated a working group at the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis to review and synthesize available studies of dam removals and their findings. Based on dam removals thus far, some general conclusions have emerged: (1) physical responses are typically fast, with the rate of sediment erosion largely dependent on sediment characteristics and dam-removal strategy; (2) ecological responses to dam removal differ among the affected upstream, downstream, and reservoir reaches; (3) dam removal tends to quickly reestablish connectivity, restoring the movement of material and organisms between upstream and downstream river reaches; (4) geographic context, river history, and land use significantly influence river restoration trajectories and recovery potential because they control broader physical and ecological processes and conditions; and (5) quantitative modeling capability is improving, particularly for physical and broad-scale ecological effects, and gives managers information needed to understand and predict long-term effects of dam removal on riverine ecosystems. Although these studies collectively enhance our understanding of how riverine ecosystems respond to dam removal, knowledge gaps remain because most studies have been short (< 5 years) and do not adequately represent the diversity of dam types, watershed conditions, and dam-removal methods in the U.S.

A Synoptic View of the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3)

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 10:46

Probabilistic forecasting of earthquake‐producing fault ruptures informs all major decisions aimed at reducing seismic risk and improving earthquake resilience. Earthquake forecasting models rely on two scales of hazard evolution: long‐term (decades to centuries) probabilities of fault rupture, constrained by stress renewal statistics, and short‐term (hours to years) probabilities of distributed seismicity, constrained by earthquake‐clustering statistics. Comprehensive datasets on both hazard scales have been integrated into the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 3 (UCERF3). UCERF3 is the first model to provide self‐consistent rupture probabilities over forecasting intervals from less than an hour to more than a century, and it is the first capable of evaluating the short‐term hazards that result from multievent sequences of complex faulting. This article gives an overview of UCERF3, illustrates the short‐term probabilities with aftershock scenarios, and draws some valuable scientific conclusions from the modeling results. In particular, seismic, geologic, and geodetic data, when combined in the UCERF3 framework, reject two types of fault‐based models: long-term forecasts constrained to have local Gutenberg-Richter scaling, and short‐term forecasts that lack stress relaxation by elastic rebound.

Integrating geographically isolated wetlands into land management decisions

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 09:59

Wetlands across the globe provide extensive ecosystem services. However, many wetlands - especially those surrounded by uplands, often referred to as geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs) - remain poorly protected. Protection and restoration of wetlands frequently requires information on their hydrologic connectivity to other surface waters, and their cumulative watershed-scale effects. The integration of measurements and models can supply this information. However, the types of measurements and models that should be integrated are dependent on management questions and information compatibility. We summarize the importance of GIWs in watersheds and discuss what wetland connectivity means in both science and management contexts. We then describe the latest tools available to quantify GIW connectivity and explore crucial next steps to enhancing and integrating such tools. These advancements will ensure that appropriate tools are used in GIW decision making and maintaining the important ecosystem services that these wetlands support.

In a nutshell:
  • Wetlands in general receive insufficient protection and this is particularly true for geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs), which are completely surrounded by upland areas
  • GIWs have recently gained policy attention because they provide important ecosystem services, but like most wetlands, their loss and degradation continues
  • Knowledge of the hydrologic connections of GIWs to downstream waters is necessary for their management, particularly under US federal law
  • We synthesize data and modeling tools to quantify GIW connectivity and assess consequent individual and cumulative effects on downstream waters
  • The most defensible management decisions are based on knowledge from a combination of measured, modeled, and hypothesized GIW connections

A global multiproxy database for temperature reconstructions of the Common Era

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:55

Reproducible climate reconstructions of the Common Era (1 CE to present) are key to placing industrial-era warming into the context of natural climatic variability. Here we present a community-sourced database of temperature-sensitive proxy records from the PAGES2k initiative. The database gathers 692 records from 648 locations, including all continental regions and major ocean basins. The records are from trees, ice, sediment, corals, speleothems, documentary evidence, and other archives. They range in length from 50 to 2000 years, with a median of 547 years, while temporal resolution ranges from biweekly to centennial. Nearly half of the proxy time series are significantly correlated with HadCRUT4.2 surface temperature over the period 1850-2014. Global temperature composites show a remarkable degree of coherence between high- and low-resolution archives, with broadly similar patterns across archive types, terrestrial versus marine locations, and screening criteria. The database is suited to investigations of global and regional temperature variability over the Common Era, and is shared in the Linked Paleo Data (LiPD) format, including serializations in Matlab, R and Python.

Landscape context and the biophysical response of rivers to dam removal in the United States

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:36

Dams have been a fundamental part of the U.S. national agenda over the past two hundred years. Recently, however, dam removal has emerged as a strategy for addressing aging, obsolete infrastructure and more than 1,100 dams have been removed since the 1970s. However, only 130 of these removals had any ecological or geomorphic assessments, and fewer than half of those included before- and after-removal (BAR) studies. In addition, this growing, but limited collection of dam-removal studies is limited to distinct landscape settings. We conducted a meta-analysis to compare the landscape context of existing and removed dams and assessed the biophysical responses to dam removal for 63 BAR studies. The highest concentration of removed dams was in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and most have been removed from 3rd and 4th order streams, in low-elevation (< 500 m) and low-slope (< 5%) watersheds that have small to moderate upstream watershed areas (10-1000 km2) with a low risk of habitat degradation. Many of the BAR-studied removals also have these characteristics, suggesting that our understanding of responses to dam removals is based on a limited range of landscape settings, which limits predictive capacity in other environmental settings. Biophysical responses to dam removal varied by landscape cluster, indicating that landscape features are likely to affect biophysical responses to dam removal. However, biophysical data were not equally distributed across variables or clusters, making it difficult to determine which landscape features have the strongest effect on dam-removal response. To address the inconsistencies across dam-removal studies, we provide suggestions for prioritizing and standardizing data collection associated with dam removal activities.

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