Spencer Rhea and Alex Smith joined us to share updates on their SWISLR projects created at the All-Hands meeting this past May. Spencer started by sharing his project “S.T.E.W.P. - Salting the Earth with Purpose” (name yet to be finalized) focused on understanding how SWISLR affects carbon emissions in coastal wetlands, with a focus on how soil properties can mediate the response. Alex Smith followed up with the “G.Y.S.T.” project focused on how we can adapt ecosystem models to SWISLR field work going on and how field work can potentially be adapted to inform models. You can watch this recording posted in the SWISLR Seminars page.
As Spencer introduces his project, he shared with us that wetlands store a lot of carbon due in part to the soils that allow wetlands to hold onto the carbon for a long time. With global climate change these carbon stocks are under threat and many of our wetlands are disappearing under sea level rise. The effects of saltwater intrusion into wetlands and soils is variable and there are many different effects that can compound on each other. To gain a better understanding of SWISLR effects on soils he collected soil samples from other SWISLR RCN member’s research sites and compared the soil and chemical properties between salt exposed sites and protected sites. This project is still in the beginning stage and Spencer will investigate wetlands soils further through a “Common garden experiment” and a “Common substrate experiment”. Through this work Spencer wants to identify what soils are most resistant to SWISLR and welcomes other soil researchers to get involved in this soil examination!
Alex further discusses the complexity of SWISLR impacts to ecosystems and explains how these complex interactions compounding on each other require complex and innovative models. To arrive at these innovative models we first need to understand the popular adaptable models available. Through a synthesis of adaptable terrestrial models Alex arrived at ELMs, specifically the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM), a model that simulates coupled processes and interactions among water, energy, carbon, and nutrient cycles. However, the ELM does not include detailed hydrology, ecology, or biogeochemistry - all traits that we would need for modeling SWISLR. But, this model is adaptable and modules can be added to refine the model for SWISLR. Alex talks through the modules of FATES and PFLOTRAN and their pros and cons with modeling SWISLR. The current inclusion of coastal habitats in ELM, the adaptability of ELM through modules, and the simplicity in the structure of the model make a great case for why we should use ELM to model SWISLR. In addition, field studies could better inform these models. Therefore, Alex is completing a literature review of SWISLR field studies to identify what researchers are collecting and the traits that would be important to include in a model.
Studies like G.Y.S.T. and S.T.E.W.P. are helping to inform our SWISLR RCN on how we are and how we should be collecting ecosystem disturbances due to SWISLR. As we, as researchers, continue to complete experiments and collect data, there should be a concerted effort to identify and abide by a standard set of methods.