A growing human population, whose numbers and lifestyles drive an ever-increasing demand for resources—including clean water, food, and energy—is reshaping interactions between plants, microbes, and the environment on a global scale. Because the urgency of developing scientific approaches to effectively steward our Earth’s resources is becoming increasingly evident, the overarching mission of BER’s Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (DOE, 2012) is “to advance a robust predictive understanding of Earth’s climate and environmental systems and to inform the development of sustainable solutions to the Nation’s energy and environmental challenges.” This is a formidable challenge, which requires quantification of stocks and controls on states, fluxes, and residence times of water, carbon, and other key elements through all components of the Earth system. The terrestrial environment is an especially complex component of the Earth System, because it is the host for a multitude of interactions and processes among plants, animals, microorganisms, minerals, migrating fluids, and dissolved constituents. Because below-ground terrestrial processes are perhaps the least understood component of terrestrial systems, processes occurring in this large domain presents huge uncertainties in the predictive understanding of biogeochemical cycling and terrestrial ecosystem functioning.
The lack of scientific understanding and ability to simulate terrestrial system biogeochemical behavior hinders our ability to develop robust solutions to a variety of DOE mission-relevant challenges, including those associated with contaminants, carbon cycling, and sustainable biofuel crops.
How will climate (or land-use) induced changes in hydrology and vegetation affect subsurface carbon inputs, flowpaths, biogeochemical cycling and metabolic potential; how will these processes evolve over time, and what effect will interactions have on watershed biogeochemical functioning?
Development of a genome-enabled biogeochemical watershed simulation capability (GEWaSC), which provides a predictive framework for understanding how genomic information stored in subsurface microbiome affects biogeochemical watershed functioning; how watershed-scale processes affect microbial functioning, and how these interactions co-evolve.
There are many expected outcomes of the Sustainable Systems SFA 2.0 research. First and foremost is the development of an approach for gaining a predictive understanding of complex, biologically based system interactions from the genome to the watershed scale. Development of such an approach is expected to be transformational, creating knowledge that can be used to develop a new class of solutions for environmental and energy problems. The scientific outcomes are expected to be rich: to our knowledge this is the first coordinated attempt to quantify the metabolic potential of an entire subsurface ecosystem, which requires an understanding of the underlying genetic, biochemical, and physiological basis of microbial activity in the context of floodplain-wide fluxes and biogeochemical processes that occur within a heterogeneous aquifer. The SFA 2.0 will also create many capabilities that are expected to be broadly transferable and useful for the scientific community, including an open source and modular multi-scale simulation framework and data-model curation and integration tools that handle multi-scale data. The SFA 2.0 field study sites– initially the Rifle Site and subsequently a watershed site – will provide highly instrumented sites that will provide a leveraged foundation for other scientists who desire to use the infrastructure and understanding to explore fundamental biogeochemical, microbial, and plant processes and their coupling that drive planetary energy, water, and biogeochemical cycles.