ASU scientists help uncover complex causes, consequences of changes in the environment

Apr 09, 2012 By Sandy Leander
Long-term research at the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER site provides data for better understanding climate change and for constructing scenarios about sustainable futures. Credit: Tim Trumble

Long-term ecological findings reported today in a special section of the journal BioScience show as temperatures increase in snowy ecosystems, more water is lost to the atmosphere than first predicted. Also, in drier ecosystems, such as deserts, less water is lost to evaporation than predicted. These conclusions are part of a study that included analysis of data collected over 30 years from 19 forested watersheds across the country. Cities, as well as agricultural areas, receive water from these study sites.

Arizona State University scientists are part of a team of researchers from across participating in collaborative ecological studies through the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER), which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Scientists are presenting their findings in articles included in BioScience’s retrospective look at the past 30 years of LTER and its research. 

“Given the complex social and ecological dynamics involved with stream systems, long-term, cross-regional research such as this is critical for understanding the effects of climate variability on water flows,” said co-author Kelli Larson, an assistant professor at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Larson and co-author Nancy Grimm, a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, found that human interaction with an ecosystem complicates how we interpret environmental changes. In studying long-term data on 35 headwater basins, scientists discovered that both past and present human impact can mimic, worsen, improve, or even hide the effects of climate change on streamflow. For that reason, scientists believe that continuing long-term and collaborative environmental studies are critical to understanding climate change.

A collaboration of 24 scientists, including Larson and Grimm, presented these findings in “Ecosystem Processes and Human Influences Regulate Streamflow Response to Climate Change at Long-Term Ecological Research Sites,” one of six BioScience articles in the special section.

Another finding in a second article is that engaging in “scenario studies,” or studies that describe possible future conditions while incorporating relevant science, can help place scientists in a new relationship with society. Co-author Armin Wiek, assistant professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability, found that using scenario studies helps link science with decision-making in order to help create sustainable socioecological systems. The article “Scenario Studies as a Synthetic and Integrative Research activity for Long-Term Ecological Research” co-authored by eight scientists presents an argument to advance these types of LTER studies.

“ASU is home to one of 26 LTER programs. Ours is one of only two programs that focus explicitly on urban ecosystems,” said Dan Childers, director of the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER Program and professor at the ASU School of Sustainability. “Because cities are human-dominated and human-designed ecosystems, our research has an interdisciplinary focus that includes all aspects of society, ecology and economy. This dedication to interdisciplinary collaboration has been central to the success of the CAP LTER Program,” he added. Grimm co-founded and helped administer ASU’s participation in this program from 1997 through 2010.

A conglomeration of 26 research sites that represent diverse ecosystems including deserts, Arctic tundra, lakes, estuaries, oceans, coral reefs, forests, urban areas and more, makes up the LTER network. It brings together more than 1,800 scientists and students from around the world who are conducting long-term investigations into ecological processes.

ASU has 63 scientists involved in the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER program, as well as 46 graduate and undergraduate students. Students from three local high schools also participate. 

Explore further: Predicting bioavailable cadmium levels in soils

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Large-Scale Experiments Needed to Predict Global Change

Jun 02, 2008

Ecosystems are constantly exchanging materials through the movement of air in the atmosphere and water in lakes and rivers. The effects of humans, however, are another major source of connections among ecosystems.

Scientists forecast forest carbon loss

Apr 06, 2012

For more than 30 years, scientists at the Harvard Forest have scaled towers into the forest canopy and measured the trunks of trees to track how much carbon is stored or lost from the woods each year. This treasure trove ...

Recommended for you

Predicting bioavailable cadmium levels in soils

16 hours ago

New Zealand's pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country's pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium. Grasses take up this toxic heavy metal, ...

Oil drilling possible 'trigger' for deadly Italy quakes

20 hours ago

Italy's Emilia-Romagna region on Tuesday suspended new drilling as it published a report that warned that hydrocarbon exploitation may have acted as a "trigger" in twin earthquakes that killed 26 people in ...

Snow is largely a no-show for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

20 hours ago

On March 1, 65 mushers and their teams of dogs left Anchorage, Alaska, on a quest to win the Iditarod—a race covering 1,000 miles of mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest, tundra and coastline. According ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

21 hours ago

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Study shows less snowpack will harm ecosystem

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study by CAS Professor of Biology Pamela Templer shows that milder winters can have a negative impact both on trees and on the water quality of nearby aquatic ecosystems, far into the warm growing season.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.