Realized ecological forecast through an interactive Ecological Platform for Assimilating Data (EcoPAD, v1.0) into models

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Predicting future changes in ecosystem services is not only highly desirable but is also becoming feasible as several forces (e.g., available big data, developed data assimilation (DA) techniques, and advanced cyber-infrastructure) are converging to transform ecological research into quantitative forecasting. To realize ecological forecasting, we have developed an Ecological Platform for Assimilating Data (EcoPAD, v1.0) into models. EcoPAD (v1.0) is a web-based software system that automates data transfer and processing from sensor networks to ecological forecasting through data management, model simulation, data assimilation, forecasting, and visualization. It facilitates interactive data–model integration from which the model is recursively improved through updated data while data are systematically refined under the guidance of model. EcoPAD (v1.0) relies on data from observations, process-oriented models, DA techniques, and the web-based workflow.

We applied EcoPAD (v1.0) to the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Climatic and Environmental change (SPRUCE) experiment in northern Minnesota. The EcoPAD-SPRUCE realizes fully automated data transfer, feeds meteorological data to drive model simulations, assimilates both manually measured and automated sensor data into the Terrestrial ECOsystem (TECO) model, and recursively forecasts the responses of various biophysical and biogeochemical processes to five temperature and two CO2 treatments in near-real time (weekly). Forecasting with EcoPAD-SPRUCE has revealed that mismatches in forecasting carbon pool dynamics are more related to model (e.g., model structure, parameter, and initial value) than forcing variables, opposite to forecasting flux variables. EcoPAD-SPRUCE quantified acclimations of methane production in response to warming treatments through shifted posterior distributions of the CH4:CO2 ratio and the temperature sensitivity (Q10) of methane production towards lower values. Different case studies indicated that realistic forecasting of carbon dynamics relies on appropriate model structure, correct parameterization, and accurate external forcing. Moreover, EcoPAD-SPRUCE stimulated active feedbacks between experimenters and modelers to identify model components to be improved and additional measurements to be taken. It has become an interactive model–experiment (ModEx) system and opens a novel avenue for interactive dialogue between modelers and experimenters. Altogether, EcoPAD (v1.0) acts to integrate multiple sources of information and knowledge to best inform ecological forecasting.