The earth’s atmosphere is changing; carbon dioxide levels are rising, and the earth’s surface and oceans are warming. We are now experiencing the effect of those changes around the world.
However, we are still unsure of how these changes may play out. The dynamic relationships between the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface (the soils, vegetation, water and built structures), and the cycling of energy, gases and water between them are still uncertain – but it is those processes that drive climate change and its effects.
Our ability to better model how climate and ecosystems may change, and to monitor changes across the globe, hinges on better understanding the energy and gas exchanges (the fluxes) between the atmosphere and the earth’s surface – particularly its vegetation and soil. Global Circulation Models (GCMs) and the interpretation of remote sensing data rely on better data and understanding of what is actually happening in terms of stocks and flows of energy, carbon dioxide and water.
The University of Adelaide’s Calperum Ecosystem Research Site is providing the data needed to fill that need. By using high quality, rapid response instruments to measure second by second changes it is:
- Investigating fluxes of water vapour, energy and carbon dioxide between the atmosphere, upper soil layers and groundwater, and
- Monitoring the changes in vegetation and dependent biota associated with the different ecosystems of the Site.
It will answer questions of:
- What are the fundamental energy, carbon, water and nutrient stocks and flows in Mallee, Callitris woodland and River Murray floodplain ecosystems?
- How are those stocks and flows responding to changes in climate and management (e.g. reduced grazing, controlled fire, and controlled floods on the floodplain)?
- How are biota changing in form, frequency and distribution as climate and management changes?
- How important is the connectivity between these mallee, woodland and floodplain ecosystems for hydrology, faunal movement and as refugia in times of drought?
The Calperum Site is the only South Australian site in a small network of similar sites across Australia, which in turn is linked with a global network of sites providing equivalent crucial information from different environments. Data from Calperum is of high quality and is already being used by research and teaching organisations across the world.
The site also is beginning to be used as a foundation for a wide range of ancillary research to explore locally important topics, and the expertise that has been developed could be readily applied to comparable questions in agricultural and even urban settings. Such initiatives can further strengthen our research capacity and better enable southern Australia to grapple with the challenges of a changing climate.
Data from the Calperum site (from 2010 to 2013) has been downloaded 630 times as at mid 2017, by international researchers through the global network, FLUXNET. The researchers come from many different countries and use the data to test and enhance Global Circulation Models, to ground-truth remote sensing estimates of things like carbon and water exchange, and for teaching purposes.
The Calperum Site has also been used by other TERN initiatives, such as.
- TERN AusCover: Two field campaigns have been conducted at Calperum to calibrate hyperspectral information gathered from an overflying instrumented aircraft. The aim was to also coincide data gathering with satellite overpasses and hence have the opportunity for improving data accuracy through cross referencing. The Calperum site has proved to be particularly useful for this purpose because the large extent of the vegetation and relatively flat topography have enabled quality data to be collected.
- TERN AusPlots: Members of the AusPlots team have established 16 monitored plots on Calperum. These are associated with the three 1 ha Supersite plots as well as plots in surrounding vegetation to gather base-line data on within ecosystem variation. AusPlot staff have also conducted two training workshop using the facilities and plot areas on Calperum. It is expected that repeat sampling of the plots will occur every 5 years to monitor changes and trends in vegetation.