Greetings from the Powell Center: Your browser is currently running on Internet Explorer (IE) 8 or lower version. To better view this Web site we recommend updating your browser to the most current IE Version.

John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

Powell Center Products

Comparing potential recharge estimates from three Land Surface Models across the western US

Powell Center Working Group Products - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 09:49

Groundwater is a major source of water in the western US. However, there are limited recharge estimates in this region due to the complexity of recharge processes and the challenge of direct observations. Land surface Models (LSMs) could be a valuable tool for estimating current recharge and projecting changes due to future climate change. In this study, simulations of three LSMs (Noah, Mosaic and VIC) obtained from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS-2) are used to estimate potential recharge in the western US. Modeled recharge was compared with published recharge estimates for several aquifers in the region. Annual recharge to precipitation ratios across the study basins varied from 0.01% to 15% for Mosaic, 3.2% to 42% for Noah, and 6.7% to 31.8% for VIC simulations. Mosaic consistently underestimates recharge across all basins. Noah captures recharge reasonably well in wetter basins, but overestimates it in drier basins. VIC slightly overestimates recharge in drier basins and slightly underestimates it for wetter basins. While the average annual recharge values vary among the models, the models were consistent in identifying high and low recharge areas in the region. Models agree in seasonality of recharge occurring dominantly during the spring across the region. Overall, our results highlight that LSMs have the potential to capture the spatial and temporal patterns as well as seasonality of recharge at large scales. Therefore, LSMs (specifically VIC and Noah) can be used as a tool for estimating future recharge in data limited regions.

Urgent need for warming experiments in tropical forests

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 04/06/2017 - 10:48
Although tropical forests account for only a fraction of the planet's terrestrial surface, they exchange more carbon dioxide with the atmosphere than any other biome on Earth, and thus play a disproportionate role in the global climate. In the next 20 years, the tropics will experience unprecedented warming, yet there is exceedingly high uncertainty about their potential responses to this imminent climatic change. Here, we prioritize research approaches given both funding and logistical constraints in order to resolve major uncertainties about how tropical forests function and also to improve predictive capacity of earth system models. We investigate overall model uncertainty of tropical latitudes and explore the scientific benefits and inevitable trade-offs inherent in large-scale manipulative field experiments. With a Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 analysis, we found that model variability in projected net ecosystem production was nearly 3 times greater in the tropics than for any other latitude. Through a review of the most current literature, we concluded that manipulative warming experiments are vital to accurately predict future tropical forest carbon balance, and we further recommend the establishment of a network of comparable studies spanning gradients of precipitation, edaphic qualities, plant types, and/or land use change. We provide arguments for long-term, single-factor warming experiments that incorporate warming of the most biogeochemically active ecosystem components (i.e. leaves, roots, soil microbes). Hypothesis testing of underlying mechanisms should be a priority, along with improving model parameterization and constraints. No single tropical forest is representative of all tropical forests; therefore logistical feasibility should be the most important consideration for locating large-scale manipulative experiments. Above all, we advocate for multi-faceted research programs, and we offer arguments for what we consider the most powerful and urgent way forward in order to improve our understanding of tropical forest responses to climate change.

Iterative ecological forecasting: Needs, opportunities, and challenges

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 03/16/2017 - 12:24
A fundamental environmental challenge facing humanity in the 21st century and beyond is predicting the impacts of global environmental change. This challenge is complicated by the fact that we live on a non-stationary, unreplicated planet that is rapidly moving outside the envelope of natural variability into an historical non-analog world. In other words, while the past helps inform us about how the world has worked, it may no longer be the relevant frame of reference for management, conservation, and sustainability. In this future world the two questions at the foundation of sustainability are “How are ecosystems and the services they provide going to change in the future?” and “How do human decisions affect this trajectory?” These are, at their heart, questions about ecological forecasting...

[continue reading]

A Spatiotemporal Clustering Model for the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3‐ETAS): Toward an Operational Earthquake Forecast

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 03/01/2017 - 13:04
We, the ongoing Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities, present a spatiotemporal clustering model for the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3), with the goal being to represent aftershocks, induced seismicity, and otherwise triggered events as a potential basis for operational earthquake forecasting (OEF). Specifically, we add an epidemic‐type aftershock sequence (ETAS) component to the previously published time‐independent and long‐term time‐dependent forecasts. This combined model, referred to as UCERF3‐ETAS, collectively represents a relaxation of segmentation assumptions, the inclusion of multifault ruptures, an elastic‐rebound model for fault‐based ruptures, and a state‐of‐the‐art spatiotemporal clustering component. It also represents an attempt to merge fault‐based forecasts with statistical seismology models, such that information on fault proximity, activity rate, and time since last event are considered in OEF. We describe several unanticipated challenges that were encountered, including a need for elastic rebound and characteristic magnitude-frequency distributions (MFDs) on faults, both of which are required to get realistic triggering behavior. UCERF3‐ETAS produces synthetic catalogs of M≥2.5 events, conditioned on any prior M≥2.5 events that are input to the model. We evaluate results with respect to both long‐term (1000 year) simulations as well as for 10‐year time periods following a variety of hypothetical scenario mainshocks. Although the results are very plausible, they are not always consistent with the simple notion that triggering probabilities should be greater if a mainshock is located near a fault. Important factors include whether the MFD near faults includes a significant characteristic earthquake component, as well as whether large triggered events can nucleate from within the rupture zone of the mainshock. Because UCERF3‐ETAS has many sources of uncertainty, as will any subsequent version or competing model, potential usefulness needs to be considered in the context of actual applications.

Channel response to sediment release: insights from a paired analysis of dam removal

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 11:13
Dam removals with unmanaged sediment releases are good opportunities to learn about channel response to abruptly increased bed material supply. Understanding these events is important because they affect aquatic habitats and human uses of floodplains. A longstanding paradigm in geomorphology holds that response rates to landscape disturbance exponentially decay through time. However, a previous study of the Merrimack Village Dam (MVD) removal on the Souhegan River in New Hampshire, USA, showed that an exponential function poorly described the early geomorphic response. Erosion of impounded sediments there was two-phased. We had an opportunity to quantitatively test the two-phase response model proposed for MVD by extending the record there and comparing it with data from the Simkins Dam removal on the Patapsco River in Maryland, USA. The watershed sizes are the same order of magnitude (102 km2), and at both sites low-head dams were removed (~3-4 m) and ~65 000 m3 of sand-sized sediments were discharged to low-gradient reaches. Analyzing four years of repeat morphometry and sediment surveys at the Simkins site, as well as continuous discharge and turbidity data, we observed the two-phase erosion response described for MVD. In the early phase, approximately 50% of the impounded sediment at Simkins was eroded rapidly during modest flows. After incision to base level and widening, a second phase began when further erosion depended on floods large enough to go over bank and access impounded sediments more distant from the newly-formed channel. Fitting functional forms to the data for both sites, we found that two-phase exponential models with changing decay constants fit the erosion data better than single-phase models. Valley width influences the two-phase erosion responses upstream, but downstream responses appear more closely related to local gradient, sediment re-supply from the upstream impoundments, and base flows. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Climate change reduces extent of temperate drylands and intensifies drought in deep soils

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 02/01/2017 - 09:47
Drylands cover 40% of the global terrestrial surface and provide important ecosystem services. While drylands as a whole are expected to increase in extent and aridity in coming decades, temperature and precipitation forecasts vary by latitude and geographic region suggesting different trajectories for tropical, subtropical, and temperate drylands. Uncertainty in the future of tropical and subtropical drylands is well constrained, whereas soil moisture and ecological droughts, which drive vegetation productivity and composition, remain poorly understood in temperate drylands. Here we show that, over the twenty first century, temperate drylands may contract by a third, primarily converting to subtropical drylands, and that deep soil layers could be increasingly dry during the growing season. These changes imply major shifts in vegetation and ecosystem service delivery. Our results illustrate the importance of appropriate drought measures and, as a global study that focuses on temperate drylands, highlight a distinct fate for these highly populated areas.

Best Practices for Virtual Participation in Meetings: Experiences from Synthesis Centers

Powell Center Working Group Products - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 15:02
The earth environment is a complex system, in which collaborative scientific approaches can provide major benefits by bringing together diverse perspectives, methods, and data, to achieve robust, synthetic understanding (Fig. 1). Face- to- face scientific meetings remain extremely valuable because of the opportunity to build deep mutual trust and understanding, and develop new collaborations and sometimes even lifelong friendships (Alberts 2013, Cooke and Hilton 2015). However, it has been argued that ecologists should be particularly sensitive to the environmental footprint of travel (Fox et al. 2009); such concerns, along with the time demands for travel, particularly for multi- national working groups, provide strong motivation for exploring virtual attendance. While not replacing the richness of face- to- face interactions entirely, it is now feasible to virtually participate in meetings through services that allow video, audio, and file sharing, as well as other Web- enabled communication.

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey | DOI Inspector General
Page Contact Information: Ask USGS
Page Last Modified: December 19, 2013
Site Team