Improving Predictions of Large Scale Soil Carbon Dynamics: Integration of fine-scale hydrological and biogeochemical processes, scaling, and benchmarking

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 11:00
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Numerical model representations of decadal- to centennial-scale soil-carbon dynamics are a dominant cause of uncertainty in climate change predictions. Recent attempts by some Earth System Model (ESM) teams to integrate previously unrepresented soil processes (e.g., explicit microbial processes, abiotic interactions with mineral surfaces, vertical transport), poor performance of many ESM land models against large-scale and experimental manipulation observations, and complexities associated with spatial heterogeneity highlight the nascent nature of our community’s ability to accurately predict future soil carbon dynamics.

I will present recent work from our group to develop a modeling framework to integrate pore-, column-, watershed-, and global-scale soil process representations into an ESM (ACME), and apply the International Land Model Benchmarking (ILAMB) package for evaluation. At the column scale and across a wide range of sites, observed depth-resolved carbon stocks and their 14C derived turnover times can be explained by a model with explicit representation of two microbial populations, a simple representation of mineralogy, and vertical transport. Integrating soil and plant dynamics requires a ‘process-scaling’ approach, since all aspects of the multi-nutrient system cannot be explicitly resolved at ESM scales. I will show that one approach, the Equilibrium Chemistry Approximation, improves predictions of forest nitrogen and phosphorus experimental manipulations and leads to very different global soil carbon predictions. Translating model representations from the site- to ESM-scale requires a spatial scaling approach that either explicitly resolves the relevant processes, or more practically, accounts for fine-resolution dynamics at coarser scales. To that end, I will present recent watershed-scale modeling work that applies reduced order model methods to accurately scale fine-resolution soil carbon dynamics to coarse-resolution simulations. Finally, we contend that creating believable soil carbon predictions requires a robust, transparent, and community-available benchmarking framework. I will present an ILAMB evaluation of several of the above-mentioned approaches in ACME, and attempt to motivate community adoption of this evaluation approach.