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Man affects air affects water...
Modeling aids environmental decision making
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011
PULLMAN, Wash. – Earth's biological and physical processes are interrelated and react to each other. Spew some carbon dioxide from your car and the ocean warms, which causes a little more evaporation, a few more clouds - and a bit more snow in Baltimore.
Washington State University’s Jennifer Adam, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is leading an effort to understand this integrated nature of physical processes. If they understand the effects and consequences of human activity on the earth, stakeholders should be able to make informed decisions at the local level regarding global change, she said.
Her team of researchers from six institutions is developing an earth systems model for the Pacific Northwest. Called BioEarth, it integrates standalone models that capture real processes of the environment - atmospheric, terrestrial, aquatic and socioeconomic – in order to show how changes in one component affect the others.
Modeling to understand consequences
Adam said a model like this has an advantage over conducting an experiment.
"With experiments you can only observe what has already happened,” she said. "The nice thing about modeling is you can test changes that haven’t occurred yet. If we evoke a change, we think the model can tell us what that change would cause.”
The stand-alone, computer-based systems that are being integrated already exist and are continuously undergoing development.
"By coupling them, we’re making the stand-alone models talk to each other,” Adam said.
What they say will provide insights for forest management, farming, air and water quality, climate change and much more.
Human component integral
The five-year BioEarth project will include efforts to gather input from stakeholders, including farmers, land managers and Native American tribes.
"While we’re building a conceptual understanding of earth processes, we’re also learning a lot from these groups of people,” Adam said. "What we’re trying to do is tie it in with human activities and decision making.”