NZ14m for forest water study

Friday 21 Feb 2020

A NZ$14 million Government-funded project is under way to figure out how climate change will affect the amount of water and nutrients flowing through New Zealand forests. Scientists from Scion are working with Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment to use remote-sensing equipment, isotopic tracing and manipulative field studies to develop a comprehensive model of water and nutrient flow through forested catchments.

“One of the big questions facing New Zealand is how climate change drivers and land use changes are going to affect ecosystem services,” said Virginia Tech’s Associate Professor Brian Strahm. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future will look like.”

The five-year research project, called Forest Flows, will develop forest hydrology models to measure and predict the storage and release of water in forest catchments while simultaneously allowing scientists to collect data on nutrient cycling, with a particular emphasis on the export, use and cycling of nitrogen.

Virginia Water Resource Research Centre manager Associate Professor Kevin McGuire says disentangling the soil and hydrologic processes controlling nutrient cycling is a major aim. “You can’t really look at the cycling of nitrogen at the watershed level without understanding how it’s transported and reacts within soil,” he said.

Researchers will use isotopic tracers in the water and in nitrogen to measure the movement of water and nutrients through a forest system – a process Strahm says is like “putting a flag or tracker on a molecule of water or an atom of nitrogen and seeing where it goes through the environment”.

The research builds on recent work in the United States, modelling hill-slope water flow to estimate how natural systems behave in response to change in land use or climate. “The hillslope study is what got us in the ballgame with Scion,” Strahm said.

While the project is focused on the unique challenges of New Zealand forest watersheds, both professors, who are affiliated faculty members of the Global Change Center housed under Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute, say it has both local and global implications. The project’s total grant amount of nearly NZ$14 million is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

Source: Carbon News 2020

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