Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD)

Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Program Mission

The Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) program within the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) seeks to improve the representation of terrestrial ecosystem processes in Earth system models thereby improving the quality of climate model projections and providing the scientific foundation of solutions for DOE’s most pressing energy and environmental challenges

Why the Program's Research is Important

A significant fraction of the CO2 released to the atmosphere during energy production is taken up by terrestrial ecosystems.  This “sink” for anthropogenic carbon represents an important buffer, offsetting the greenhouse gas effects of CO2 emissions.  However, the effects of related processes such as nutrient, water and energy cycling, in addition to climate variability and change on that uptake remain a mystery. Uncertainties about how terrestrial ecosystems will function in a changing climate hamper efforts to determine long-term impacts and stability of carbon in the biosphere. This limitation makes resolving the role of the terrestrial biosphere in the global carbon cycle a high priority.
Future climatic changes will almost certainly affect critically sensitive ecosystems and their inherently important ecosystem processes.  Understanding the foundational properties of these ecosystem processes is essential if we are to improve our ability to predicatively model terrestrial ecosystems and potential forcing feedbacks. TES research will continue to navigate the forefront of interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and a changing climate.

Program Approach

The TES program develops unique, foundational scientific insights about the terrestrial biosphere’s role in the global cycling of carbon, nutrients, and water. The program also supports research examining the feedbacks between the terrestrial biosphere and Earth’s climate system. TES focuses on ecosystems and ecological processes that are globally or regionally significant, expected to be sensitive to climate change, and are insufficiently understood or inadequately represented in models.  As part of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, TES is coordinated with BER’s climate modeling program (and research from other federal agencies), ensuring that experimental and observational results are incorporated into Earth system models to improve climate projections.
Overall, the program solicits, reviews, selects, and funds foundational science that supports the TES mission. Research projects are directed at specific scientific end points attainable within a set period. The program is a leader among U.S. and international agencies in the design, construction, and operation of pioneering, long-term, manipulative field experiments addressing critical terrestrial processes and their role in a changing climate.

Building on BER’s Legacy of Ecosystem Science

Terrestrial ecosystems respond to changes at varying scales of time and space, with some long-term effects emerging slowly over many years. Understanding these responses often requires observation or manipulation over extended time periods. BER has a distinguished history of designing, testing, and implementing leading-edge experimental approaches to study long-term effects of climate and atmospheric composition on the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. The Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) method of controlling elevated CO2 (and ozone) concentrations within ecosystems is one such success story; FACE is now used throughout the world in a wide range of ecosystems. Results of the FACE experiments are invaluable in forecasting both future atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the role of terrestrial ecosystems in future climates. Large-scale, long-term experimental precipitation and temperature manipulation experiments also were pioneered by BER. These studies provide vital knowledge about the effects of changing precipitation on the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the regional-scale regulation of weather and climate carried out by ecosystems. Current and future investments include BER’s innovative concept for coupling models with experimental and observational campaigns, the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE)External link.  The NGEE concept is being targeted in globally important, climatically sensitive and poorly understood ecosystems, currently, the Arctic and Tropics.  TES will build on this legacy and reshape the fundamental approach to long-term ecosystem studies through model-inspired research activities.  Additional investments in large-scale open-top chamber ecosystem manipulations are supported in the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Climatic and Environmental Change (SPRUCE)External link project being conducted in the Marcell Experimental forest in northern Minnesota. 
BER investments also provide management and support infrastructure for AmeriFluxExternal link, the interagency activity coordinating long-term CO2 (and energy) flux measurements across North America.  Approximately 100 sites across the continent make continuous measurements of ecosystem carbon flux providing important insights into these processes as well as the long-term records needed to validate model projections. 

Program Priorities

TES contributes to the CESD’s Strategic Goal #2; "Develop, test and simulate process-level understanding of atmospheric systems and of terrestrial ecosystems extending from the bedrock to the top of the vegetative canopy."  This understanding is captured as predictive relationships to drive coupled regional and global models that inform future research and energy decisions.”  The need to understand ecosystem responses to warming, as well as increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration and altered precipitation timing and amount, is essential to improving projections of both the feedbacks between the biosphere and atmosphere as well as the ecological effects of climate change. Through hypothesis-driven observations; experimental manipulations; and large-scale, long-term field studies, TES focuses on foundational research, including studies in critical and potentially sensitive ecosystems. The goals are to understand and explain mechanisms and processes controlling primary production and carbon cycling, biogeochemistry, and the impacts of disturbance on terrestrial ecosystems. This information is required to improve model-based projections of climate change.

Program Funding Opportunity Announcements

TES supports BER mission-oriented ecosystem research at universities, national laboratories, and other research institutions through regular peer-reviewed, hypothesis-driven competitions.  Funding Opportunity Announcements are posted on the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Web Site and at grants.govExternal link Information about preparing and submitting applications, as well as the DOE Office of Science merit review process, is available at the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Web Site.  For current announcements visit BER Funding Opportunities
The program’s most recent university announcements were:

DE-FOA-0000287 "Terrestrial Carbon Cycle Research," which sought applications on the terrestrial carbon cycle that would improve the understanding of the role of terrestrial biomes in the global carbon cycle and aid carbon cycle predictions related to climate change with particular interest in (i) the role of disturbance in carbon cycling; (ii) controls of transformation of biomass into soil organic matter and stabilization mechanisms; (iii) relationships between flux measurements and ecosystem function.

DE-FOA-0000536 "Terrestrial Ecosystem Science," which sought applications to advance our predictive understanding of terrestrial processes in a changing climate with particular interest in (i) process level understanding of belowground processes (root and soil interactions) and coupled biogeochemical processes; (ii) impacts of disturbance on terrestrial ecosystems; (iii) foundational process research in critically sensitive ecosystems (arctic/boreal and tropics); and (iv) synthesis activities relevant to carbon flux programs.

More Information

TES Program website

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)External link

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC)External link

Program Managers

J. Michael Kuperberg, Ph.D.
Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, SC-23.1
Department of Energy, GTN Bldg.
1000 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20585-1290
Phone: (301) 903-3511
Fax: (301) 903-8519

Daniel Stover, Ph.D.
Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, SC-23.1
Department of Energy, GTN Bldg.
1000 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20585-1290
Phone: (301) 903-0289
Fax: (301) 903-8519

Last modified: 10/24/2013 3:11:30 PM