The University of Iowa NASA EPSCoR Project
Agricultural Soil Erosion and Carbon Cycle Observations in Iowa: Gaps Threaten Climate Mitigating Policies
Our vision for the Iowa NASA EPSCoR project is to build research capacity within the state to quantify the links between net greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon, land use, and environmental impacts while building a program of national stature in the study of carbon cycle in intense agricultural systems. Greenhouse gas mitigation through agriculture management practices such as no-till cultivation is assumed as a viable option. But the implications of agriculture management practices (till vs. no-till) on carbon fluxes are highly uncertain and not well understood.The University of Iowa and its partners is very well positioned to address agricultural carbon cycle questions though an EPSCoR program. The program will offer unique student opportunities, position the grant team for long-term extramural funding, and leverage several existing observational and computational assets. These include the NSF-supported Clear Creek Amana Hydrologic Observatory, atmospheric carbon transport models in use at the University of Iowa, the recently installed tall tower observatory 15 km from Iowa City, and the long-term, field observations at the NLAE sites.
In Iowa, projected climate shifts (e.g., increases in extreme events) coupled with intense agriculture activities (e.g., increased demands for biofuel production) create a challenging set of questions and choices for scientists, policy makers, farmers, and businesses. Motivated by these challenges and opportunities, we have developed a NASA EPSCoR program that focuses on the links between net CO2 emissions, land use-changes, and soil organic carbon (SOC).
Our long-term vision for the Iowa NASA EPSCoR project is to build research capacity within the state and region to quantify these links while establishing a program of national stature for carbon cycle studies in intense agricultural systems.
To pursue this vision, we have assembled an external advisory board of experts in the field of carbon dynamics from NASA research centers and the USDA-National Soil Survey Center. This specific research program brings together a qualified team of scientists to address this multidisciplinary project from four departments at two Iowa universities and the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture & Environment.
- Refine the parameterization of existing biogeochemical models to better replicate the effects of soil erosion on soil organic C redistribution and improve model simulations for carbon budget in Iowa.
- Quantify the differences in soil carbon sequestration potential under different agricultural management practices within the Clear Creek Amana.
- Through 12C/13C isotope ratio measurements, resolve the relative effects of soil respiration, land cover, and crop rotation on soil carbon and carbon fluxes.
- Compare remote sensed CO2 (satellite) to in situ samples from tall tower and aircraft.
- Determine the sensitivity of regional scale carbon observations and predictions to the range of fluxes determined for different land management practices and atmospheric conditions.
- Perform a pilot environmental assessment study to determine the impact of management strategies on soil organic C sequestration potential.
How Are We Doing It
In this research program, we will investigate the impact of land-use changes and associated agricultural practices on SOC sequestration potential with the goal of providing better estimates of future trends in CO2 emissions within the region. In collaboration with the NASA researchers, our EPSCoR project team has developed a two-pronged methodological approach (bottom-up, top-down) to meet our overarching goal of research capacity building. The bottom-up approach promotes understanding of the relationship between land use/land cover and CO2. The top-down approach provides understanding the carbon cycle at multiple scales. A central part of our methodological design is to intercompare and reconcile to the extent possible CO2 fluxes obtained from the bottom-up and top-down approaches. From the latter intercomparison we will be able to identify areas of improvement for the larger scale models.
Our NASA EPSCoR program will test the development of methods and models for determining carbon budgets at a smaller, regional scale, which will eventually be applied at larger scales. The proposed analysis is a critical component of any system for determining carbon credits that may be developed in the future. Our research program is expected to lead to infrastructure, partnerships, and collection of unique data for elucidating the role of land-uses and management practices on carbon losses and gains in intense agricultural environments, thus achieving sustainable extramural funding for continued research and student training. The NASA benefits from the proposed EPSCoR research program are ample as we will provide an improved understanding of how soil and atmospheric measurements taken at local and regional scale can be used to improve the biogeochemical models critical to NASA’s forecasts of atmospheric composition, land cover, and climate at decade-to-century time scales. NASA collaborators will provide vital NASA/USGS Landsat and MODIS satellite imagery required to running the biosphere flux models. In addition, they will actively participate in the intercomparison exercises. Successful execution of the EPSCoR activities is expected to further NASA earth science priorities, provide excellent student training in carbon cycle and agricultural carbon issue, and give a high probability for future funding in this area.
Methods and Models
Vegetation Photosynthesis and Respiration Model
To run the Vegetation Photosynthesis and Respiration Model (VPRM), we use a 13-class, land cover model with 1-km resolution with data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service and MODIS–derived plant growth parameterization to provide realistic timing of photosynthesis relative to year-to-year variations in climate and land management. The VPRM simulations provide to us the Net Ecosystem Exchange (NEE) of C to develop carbon budgets and quantify SOC sequestration potential.
Effects of Agricultural Land Management Practices on SOC
In agricultural systems, like those that we have here in the Midwest, fluxes of carbon (namely erosion and deposition) move considerable amounts carbon ultimately affecting our C-budgets. The coupled WEPP and CENTURY models can simulate a wide range of land management practices and provide a physically based quantification of carbon fluxes at the watershed scale. These values can be re-introduced into VPRM to scale up our results to state and the Midwest.
Incorporating Erosion and Soil Respiration
Using our different models, we can develop more detailed budgets of NEE and SOC Sequestration for Iowa. Current conservation land use practices in Iowa are sequestering carbon in our soils, which increases soil quality and limits CO2 increases.
Presentations and Publications
Anderson, C., Myers, A., Yarker, M., Carlson, J., Stanier, C. “Development and Testing of Hands-on Experiments for Middle School Teachers Regarding Energy Transfer and Climate,” poster at Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Minneapolis, MN, 2011.
Behrendt, B., Bullard, R., Stanier, C. “Height Resolved SO2 Monitor,” Environmental Division student poster session of the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Minneapolis, MN, 2011.
Behrendt, B., Bullard, R., and Stainer, C. “Height Resolved SO2 Monitoring,” poster at 2011 University of Iowa College of Engineering Research Open House.
Coulter, K., Petrich, N., Jamroensan, A., Papanicolaou, T., Carmichael, G., and Stanier, C. “Monitoring and Measuring Iowa’s Carbon Balance,” poster at 2011 University of Iowa College of Engineering Research Open House.
Coulter, K., Jamroensan, A., Wilson, C., Petrich, N., Wacha, K., Papanicolaou, T., Carmichael, G., and Stanier, C. “Modeling and Measuring CO2 in Iowa,” poster at the Iowa Space Grant Consortium Executive Committee and Affiliates Meeting. Marshalltown IA, 2011.
Jamroensan, A., Ahmadov, R., Pétron, G., Carmichael, G., Andrews, A., Sweeney, C., Kretschmer, R., Gerbig, C., Olsen, L., Stanier, C., “Improving Estimates of CO2 using the WRF-VPRM Biosphere and Transport Model over the Midwest USA,” 2011 AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA, 2011.
Jamroensan, A., Ahmadov, R., Pétron, G., Carmichael, G., Andrews, A., Kretschmer, R., Gerbig, C., Olsen, L., Stanier, C., Gerbig, C., and Olsen, L. “WRF-VPRM Mesoscale Transport and Biosphere Model Performance using Optimized VPRM Parameters for Midwest USA”, presentation at the North American Carbon Program Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 2011.
Jamroensan, A., Carmichael, G., and Stanier, C. “Effect of Land Cover and Meteorological Boundary Conditions on CO2 Simulation using WRFVPRM,” poster at 2011 University of Iowa College of Engineering Research Open House.
Malott, T., Stanier, C. “Carbonyl Sulfide In the Earth’s Atmosphere: Relevant Reactions and Their Use to Interpret Atmospheric Data,” Environmental Division student poster session of the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Minneapolis, MN, 2011.
Papanicolaou, A.N., C.G. Wilson, K. Wacha, and T. Moorman. 2011. Watershed scale carbon cycle dynamics in intensively managed landscapes: bridging the knowledge gap to support climate mitigation policies. 34th International Association of Hydraulic Engineering & Research (IAHR) Biennial Congress, Brisbane, Australia.
Papanicolaou, A.N., D. Dermisis, K. Wacha, B. Abban, and C.G. Wilson. 2011. Agricultural soil erosion and soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics in the U.S. Midwest: Bridging the knowledge gap across scales. GSA Annual Meeting. Minneapolis, USA.
Wacha, K.M., A.N. Papanicolaou, and C.G. Wilson. 2011. Total Below-ground Carbon Allocation (TBCA) estimation in an intensively managed agricultural watershed. James F. Jakobsen Graduate Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Wacha, K.M., A.N. Papanicolaou, and C.G. Wilson. 2011. Variation of Total Below-ground Carbon Allocation (TBCA) between land management practices. College of Engineering Research Open House, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.
Wacha, K.M., C.G. Wilson, A.N. Papanicolaou, C. Stanier, G. Carmichael, and T.B. Moorman, 2011. Soil carbon sinks and sources in intensively managed agricultural landscapes. 2011 Great Midwestern Space Grant Regional Meeting, Urbana-Champaign, IL.