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John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

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Estimating restorable wetland water storage at landscape scales

Powell Center Working Group Products - Fri, 12/22/2017 - 11:08

Globally, hydrologic modifications such as ditching and subsurface drainage have significantly reduced wetland water storage capacity (i.e., volume of surface water a wetland can retain) and consequent wetland functions. While wetland area has been well documented across many landscapes and used to guide restoration efforts, few studies have directly quantified the associated wetland storage capacity. Here, we present a novel raster-based approach to quantify both contemporary and potential (i.e., restorable) storage capacities of individual depressional basins across landscapes. We demonstrate the utility of this method by applying it to the Delmarva Peninsula, a region punctuated by both depressional wetlands and drainage ditches. Across the entire peninsula, we estimated that restoration (i.e., plugging ditches) could increase storage capacity by 80%. Focusing on an individual watershed, we found that over 59% of restorable storage capacity occurs within 20 m of the drainage network, and that 93% occurs within 1 m elevation of the drainage network. Our demonstration highlights widespread ditching in this landscape, spatial patterns of both contemporary and potential storage capacities, and clear opportunities for hydrologic restoration. In Delmarva and more broadly, our novel approach can inform targeted landscape-scale conservation and restoration efforts to optimize hydrologically mediated wetland functions.

Quantile regression applications in ecology and the environmental sciences.

Powell Center Working Group Products - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 13:04
This chapter made use of examples based on extending the quantile regression analyses used in the water quality and hydrofracking (Bowen et al. 2015) and atmospheric nitrogen deposition and plant species richness (Simkin et al. 2016) working group publications.  All the R code and data sets are archived on ScienceBase.

Reviews and syntheses: Field data to benchmark the carbon cycle models for tropical forests

Powell Center Working Group Products - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 09:17
For more accurate projections of both the global carbon (C) cycle and the changing climate, a critical current need is to improve the representation of tropical forests in Earth system models. Tropical forests exchange more C, energy, and water with the atmosphere than any other class of land ecosystems. Further, tropical-forest C cycling is likely responding to the rapid global warming, intensifying water stress, and increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. Projections of the future C balance of the tropics vary widely among global models. A current effort of the modeling community, the ILAMB (International Land Model Benchmarking) project, is to compile robust observations that can be used to improve the accuracy and realism of the land models for all major biomes. Our goal with this paper is to identify field observations of tropical-forest ecosystem C stocks and fluxes, and of their long-term trends and climatic and CO2 sensitivities, that can serve this effort. We propose criteria for reference-level field data from this biome and present a set of documented examples from old-growth lowland tropical forests. We offer these as a starting point towards the goal of a regularly updated consensus set of benchmark field observations of C cycling in tropical forests.

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.

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