MSc thesis: Representing alpine ecosystems in the Norwegian Earth System Model

EMERALD is an interdisciplinary and nationally coordinated research project which aims to improve the representation of high latitude and alpine ecosystems, along with their climate interactions, in the Norwegian Earth System Model (NorESM). Here, we look to integrate empirical data from the projects already underway at UiB (for example SEEDCLIM, FunCAB, INCLINE) along with broader data synthesis ideas to improve our understanding and modelling of vegetation feedback processes.

We have a couple of options available this year, see below.

Supervisor: Sonya Geange

1. Challenges in linking ecological data to vegetation models

We are developing a downscaled version of the FATES platform (a Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator) for some of our field sites – this is led by Dr. Hui Tang from UiO. Here we have opportunities to assess how well the FATES model works when we input our local field parameters compared to literature or database derived standards. There are also exciting possibilities for asking questions related to how physiological or community shifts in parameters may influence model outcomes, including: including new physiological processes, designing new plant functional types, for example mosses or lichens; or climate and ecosystem-based questions including drought in coastal heathlands, or climate change impacts across alpine gradients. In this project you will gain experience in understanding how we turn hands on field science into modelling parameters for climate land models (FATES in particular). As there are a broad range of experimental data to draw from, there is opportunities to learn about varying plant functional traits, growth forms, and climate change experimental designs. Developing insights into the model structure and design itself will be a key outcome.UiB Masters Projects 2021 Geange



2. Educational opportunities & easier user interfaces for linking ecologists and modelers

Another possibility for the EMERALD/FATES based project (see 1) here is for a more education base master’s thesis, focusing on the design and development of a graphical user interface (GUI) form of the FATES model, which allows non-specialists to engage with land surface models. This could be of particular interest for introducing undergraduate and graduate researchers to interdisciplinary research ideas, and also highlighting the importance of open science and coding-based education.

3. Harnessing the reflectance properties of vegetation

The third opportunity we have is examining how spectral imagery can be used to provide non-destructive insights into plant responses along environmental gradients. The reflectance properties of vegetation, the percentage of light reflected throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, can also provide insights into a broad range of vegetation characteristics, including: plant structural and chemical traits, plant functional types, and identifying invasive species to name just a few. As reflectance measures are able to be taken at the leaf, individual, plot, landscape and global level, and there is increased interest towards linking these responses in order to better understand patterns of plant performance, and to utilize them in large scale global models, especially as these approaches are often more time-efficient and less destructive than traditional harvest-based methods. With the wide range of experiments underway in the Between the Fjords research group, there are opportunities to looks at leaf and canopy level reflectance (NDVI) across experimental systems including; drought in coastal heathlands, responses along elevation gradients, or how alpine species respond to experimental warming. There are also databased opportunities, integrating existing data from within the Between the Fjords projects, or conducting meta-analysis or systematic reviews.