JRB-SCM Critical Zone Observatory
Transformative Behavior of Energy, Water and Carbon in the Critical Zone: An Observatory to Quantify Linkages among Ecohydrology, Biogeochemistry, and Landscape Evolution
As various earth science communities were exploring the need for integrated, multi-disciplinary observatories, SAHRA established a prototype observatory as part of its basin-scale water balance research theme. Most of the research was co-located in nested catchments along an elevation gradient in the Jemez Mountains within the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) of New Mexico.
Research in the ecohydrological observatory in New Mexico and paired efforts in Arizona informed the Jemez River Basin - Santa Catalina Mountains (JRB-SCM) Critical Zone Observatory, which was established in 2009 as part of the National CZO Program funded by the National Science Foundation. This project draws upon results from the Valles Caldera site and paired observations developed in the Santa Catalina Mountains to investigate processes occurring at and near the Earth's surface that are observable in the function, structure and co-evolution of biota, soils, and landforms. By building on both SAHRA research and infrastructure, the CZO is poised to make meaningful, far-reaching contributions to understanding climate and land cover change in much the same way SAHRA has to the field of arid and semi-arid hydrology.
The JRB-SCM Critical Zone Observatory is an interdisciplinary observatory that will improve our fundamental understanding of the function, structure and co-evolution of vegetation, soils, and landforms that comprise the Critical Zone (CZ). CZ systems organize and evolve in response to open system fluxes of energy and mass that can be quantified at point to watershed scales. These energy and mass fluxes include meteoric CZ inputs of radiation, water and carbon that are modulated by surficial biota to produce fluids and biogeochemicals that undergo further biotic and abiotic transformation during gradient-driven transport.
Tools and approaches to disciplinary research in earth surface science have advanced dramatically in recent decades and confirmed independently the importance of energy, water and carbon availability in controlling geomorphology, hydrology, pedology, biogeochemistry, and ecosystem structure. However, the feedbacks and inter-relations among them – which define the essential characteristics of critical zone function – remain poorly understood. A coordinated effort focused on (i) quantifying how energy, water and carbon inputs are effectively partitioned and transformed by CZ structure while (ii) identifying how CZ structure develops in response to spatial and temporal variability in energy and mass fluxes will yield major advances in our understanding of CZ responses to climate and land use change. Toward that end, our CZO is organized around a broad question that requires an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach:
How does variability in energy input and related mass fluxes influence CZ structure and function, and how do feedbacks with water/carbon cycling and landscape evolution alter short- and long-term CZ development?
A premise of our investigation is that during CZ evolution, feedbacks occur at a range of spatial and temporal scales as a result of the coupling of physical, chemical, and biological processes. To identify the couplings, our research is organized around three crosscutting science themes that are both multi-disciplinary and multi-scale:
- Ecohydrology and Hydrologic Partitioning,
- Subsurface Biogeochemistry, and
- Landscape Evolution.
Furthermore, the first logical step to quantify the couplings between these theme areas is to focus on the flows of effective energy, water and carbon. Our subsidiary hypotheses are intended to stimulate interdisciplinary advances within themes and to promote the identification of critical couplings and feedbacks among them.
The results from the JRB-SCM CZO will improve our ability to predict Critical Zone response to changes in climate and land cover, which is immediately useful to regional resource managers, and will ultimately inform broader-scale decision support.
The CZO coordinates closely with - and facilitates interactions between - both the CZEN cyberinfrastructure network and the CUAHSI Hydrologic Information System (HIS) to support data collection, storage, and dissemination. It will expand upon ongoing database and web services development funded by SAHRA for the CZO area for time-series data retrieval and mapping. Its education and outreach activities will build upon other highly effective educational efforts developed and led at UA through ISPE, CLIMAS, and SAHRA. It will develop a range of products and activities for K–16 students, the general public, and stakeholders, including summer Observatory field experiences for local high school and undergraduate students, graduate courses, and field camps in earth science, as well as coordination of related efforts by other science centers active in the region.
For more information, please visit: http://www.czo.arizona.edu.
See also UA News article: UA Awarded $4.35M to Study Earth's Critical Zone