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Study incorporates ecological processes into Earth system models to aid climate change predictions

Nov. 11, 2015 – A professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment is launching a new project to enable scientists to look many decades ahead and predict the effectiveness of land management practices in agriculture and forestry to mitigate climate change.

“The project is focused on predicting how forest and agriculture management can be used to meet demands for food and fiber while having positive benefits on climate,” said Quinn Thomas, assistant professor of forest dynamics and ecosystem modeling in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Thomas is leading the $2.6 million, five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Research partners include geophysical and biological scientists from multiple institutions.

“Biological predictions and land management in climate models, more broadly called Earth system models, are largely unexplored,” he said. “By viewing climate as part of the Earth system, predictions of future climate fundamentally depend on the interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes, including human society.

“Our research addresses the need to improve predictions of biological services in the Earth system with a focus on agricultural and forest sustainability,” he continued.

One example of coupled climate-biological-land management prediction is determining how decisions about the timing of crop or forest harvest rotations influence patterns of temperature and precipitation.

“Our aim is to study how agricultural and forestry practices that provide food and timber can alter climate by modifying the energy, water, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Thomas explained.  (continue reading........)

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