Cross-Tasman project to monitor primary production

A new TERN facility, Ecosystem Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure (e-MAST), has spawned a cross-Tasman project to create a generic, continent-wide monitoring system for primary production.

The project, ‘Primary production in space and time’, aims to combine different sources of data, including those provided by the TERN’s OzFlux and AusCover facilities. Primary production is the annual uptake of carbon dioxide by plants — trees, bushes, herbs, grasses and crops. It’s the foundation of vegetation and all production of food, fibre and bioenergy (renewable energy made from materials with a biological source). A reliable monitoring system will provide information about how different ecosystems — whether natural, managed or agricultural — respond to the enormous variations that are typical of the Australian climate. A monitoring system is also a necessary step towards having a prediction system which, in time, will be able to help land managers and farmers adapt to future changes in climate.

Professor Colin Prentice, the Director of e-MAST, said the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) had awarded $195,000 to a consortium led by Macquarie University, where e-MAST is based, with the participation of Professor Alfredo Huete (University of Technology Sydney) and Dr Helen Cleugh (CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research). Dr Sara Mikaloff Fletcher, at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, is also collaborating in the project.

‘All these people bring distinctive expertise,’ Colin says. ‘Professor Huete is an expert on vegetation remote sensing from satellites. Dr Cleugh and her team have huge experience in modelling primary production, using combinations of data sets and models — and this experience is what makes the project possible. Dr Mikaloff Fletcher is already working on a related project, a “CarbonTracker” for Australasia. This aims to monitor the land’s carbon balance, the difference between primary production (“carbon in”) and decomposition (“carbon out”), which is the key to understanding the continent’s role in carbon sequestration, and how this might be affected by changes in climate and land management.’

Colin said this was ‘a rather special kind of project’, because it is meant to provide a stepping stone towards future work by different groups of scientists.

‘The e-MAST facility is all about creating software infrastructure, so that scientists developing models of ecosystem processes can test their performance against a wide range of measurements — including variations in stream flows and atmospheric CO2 concentrations, as well as carbon and water fluxes measured by the OzFlux towers, and the satellite data provided by the AusCover facility,’ Colin said.

‘The new ANDS project is in very much the same spirit. It’s not about using or testing one particular model: it’s about producing and demonstrating an open-access system, which can go on being improved as new knowledge and data are acquired.’

Published in TERN e-Newsletter February 2012

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