Simulations of forest mortality in Colorado River basin

Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 13:40
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The Colorado River Basin (CRB) had experienced multiple severe forest mortality events under the recent changing climate. Such forest mortality events may have great impacts on ecosystem services and water budget of the watershed. It is hence important to estimate and predict the forest mortality in the CRB with climate change. We simulated forest mortality in the CRB with a model of plant hydraulics within the FATES (the Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator) coupled to the DOE Earth System model (ACME: Accelerated Climate Model of Energy) at a 0.5 x 0.5 degree resolution. Moreover, we incorporated a stable carbon isotope (δ13C) module to ACME(FATE) and used it as a new predictor of forest mortality. The δ13C values of plants with C3 photosynthetic pathway (almost all trees are C3 plants) can indicate the water stress plants experiencing (the more intensive stress, the less negative δ13C value). We set a δ13C threshold in model simulation, above which forest mortality initiates. We validate the mortality simulations with field data based on Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data, which were aggregated into the same spatial resolution as the model simulations. Different mortality schemes in the model (carbon starvation, hydraulic failure, and δ13C) were tested and compared. Each scheme demonstrated its strength and the plant hydraulics module provided more reliable simulations of forest mortality than the earlier ACME(FATE) version. Further testing is required for better forest mortality modelling.

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