Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) Forerunner Programs

Terrestrial Carbon Program (TCP)

Led by Roger Dahlman, the Terrestrial Carbon Program (TCP) research provided the scientific underpinnings for predicting future concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The research, which focused on natural systems that regulate the abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere, emphasized (1) understanding the processes controlling the exchange rate of CO2between the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere; (2) developing process-based models of atmosphere/terrestrial carbon exchange; (3) evaluating source-sink mechanisms for atmospheric CO2; and (4) improving the reliability of global carbon models for predicting future atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Three particularly key parts of the TCP were (1) mechanistic terrestrial carbon models for evaluating the role of the biosphere in atmospheric CO2 changes and the influence of climate and other feedbacks on the biogeochemical cycle of carbon, (2) AmeriFlux network of CO2 measurements for estimating carbon cycling by terrestrial ecosystems, and (3) Free Air CO2 Enrichments (FACE) experiments that evaluate the responses of terrestrial plants and ecosystems to increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2.

Program for Ecosystem Research (PER)

Led by Jeff Amthor, DOE’s Program for Ecosystem Research (PER) produced scientific knowledge about potential effects of climatic change on ecosystems so that decision makers (including the public) could determine if fossil-based energy production is “safe.” PER’s mission [aimed]… to “deliver improved scientific data and models about the potential response of the Earth’s climate and terrestrial biosphere to increased greenhouse gas levels for policy makers to determine safe levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” PER contributed to this by providing scientific understanding of how changes in climate and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations might affect important terrestrial ecosystems; that understanding can potentially be used as one means to define “safe” greenhouse gas levels. PER carried out its mission by soliciting, selecting, and funding basic-research projects studying potential effects of climatic change (and associated changes in atmospheric composition) on terrestrial ecosystems in the United States. The research was meant to measurably improve the scientific basis for forecasting effects of climatic change on terrestrial ecosystems and their component organisms and processes. PER supported manipulative experiments, in both the field and the laboratory, and the development and testing of ecosystem models through support to universities, government laboratories, and private research institutions. PER considered all levels of biological organization from macromolecules (e.g., DNA, RNA, and proteins) to whole ecosystems (e.g., forests, shrublands, and prairies). Research projects were directed at measurable endpoints attainable within a specified period. Types of ecosystems, their functions, and their component organisms most valued by society were of highest priority to PER. The specific environmental changes of interest to PER included:

  • Warming and changes in daily, seasonal, and interannual temperature cycles.
  • Systematic changes in seasonal and annual precipitation amount and temporal distribution.
  • Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.

PER focused on ecosystem-scale effects of these environmental changes, with specific consideration of (1) adjustments at the ecosystem scale, such as changes in the organized hierarchy of ecosystem processes, structures, species composition, primary production, or succession, as well as (2) adjustments at the organismal scale that are manifested at the ecosystem scale, including physiological, biochemical, and genetic changes that may affect ecosystem stability or functioning.

Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems (CSiTE)

Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems (CSiTE, circa 2000) performed fundamental research to discover and characterize links between critical pathways and mechanisms for creating larger, longer-lasting carbon pools in terrestrial ecosystems. Research was designed to establish the scientific basis for enhancing carbon capture and long-term sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems by developing (1) scientific understanding of carbon capture and sequestration mechanisms in terrestrial ecosystems across multiple scales from the molecular to the landscape, (2) conceptual and simulation models for extrapolation of process understanding across spatial and temporal scales, (3) estimates of national carbon sequestration potential, and (4) assessments of environmental impacts and economic implications of carbon sequestration.

Enriched Background Isotope Study (EBIS)

Enriched Background Isotope Study (EBIS) at ORNL (2000-2006) was made up of a multi-institutional team that tracked the uptake of 14C into intact ecosystems. The unintentional release of 14C provided an opportunity to track the transport, cycling, and allocation of carbon within ecosystems. This allowed for significant improvement in our understanding, and model representation of ecosystem carbon cycling. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/899557