Millions of bits of data paint a global picture of changing climate

Australian scientists have only recently begun collecting environmental data in the detail needed to understand the biological and chemical processes (and their feedbacks) that are fuelling global climate change, and to predict how these are likely to affect ecosystems. There are many gaps in the data, and not all datasets are consistent.

We need to improve our understanding and predictive capability because they underpin effective climate-change and resource-management policies and actions. The work of collecting more observations and improving processes is being coordinated by TERN’s OzFlux Facility.

OzFlux scientists run a network of about 30 instrument-laden towers that collects micrometeorological data on the amounts and movements of energy from the sun and earth, water and carbon through various Australian ecosystems. Scientists’ analysis of the data improves our understanding of biogeochemical cycles, their interaction with climate and land-management practices, and how they affect the ways in which ecosystems function. These data are also critically important in testing and improving the models that are used to project future climate scenarios, and inform resource management decision-making and carbon budget assessments.

OzFlux has been a successful voluntary community of researchers across Australia and New Zealand for about a decade. With the advent of TERN in 2009, OzFlux received additional funding and support, and has grown into a continent-wide network. TERN has also enabled a much more coordinated approach to data collection and quality assurance, and is developing the technology to display these data in real-time. OzFlux continues to be the Australasian component of the global network FluxNet, providing TERN with an important international connection.

OzFlux is collaborating with other TERN facilities, universities, state governments and CSIRO to combine datasets so they can draw more detailed and accurate pictures of how different ecosystems function in the past, now and into the future.

OzFlux data is also being used to test and improve the predictions of CABLE, the Australian community land-surface model used in the nation’s regional and global weather and climate models. CABLE can be used to predict how changing climate might affect ecosystems. Because governments use predictions to formulate their policies that regulate land use and conservation, it is important that models reflect the real world accurately.

OzFlux’s newest piece of infrastructure, at the Warra supersite in southern Tasmania, is the tallest tower in the national network. It was erected on 11 December, and its sensors and equipment are currently being added and tested, with measurements expected to start in January. (Photo courtesy of Tim Wardlaw)

Published in TERN e-Newsletter December 2012

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