Simulating the carbon cycling of croplands - model development, diagnosis, and regional application through data assimilation
In the year 2000, croplands covered about 12% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface. Through cropland management, humankind momentarily appropriates about 25% of terrestrial ecosystem productivity. Not only are croplands a key element of human food supply, but also bear potential in increased carbon (C) uptake when best-practice land management approaches are adopted. A detailed assessment of the impact of land use on terrestrial ecosystems can be achieved by modelling, but the simulation of crop C cycling itself is a relatively new discipline. Observational data on crop net ecosystem exchange (NEE) are available only recently, and constitute an important tool for model development, diagnosis, and validation. Before crop functional types (CFT) had been introduced, however, large-scale biogeochemical models (BGCM) lacked crop-specific patterns of phenology, C allocation, and land management. As a consequence, the influence of cropland C cycling on biosphere-atmosphere C exchange seasonality and magnitude is currently poorly known. To date, no regional assessment of crop C cycling and yield formation exists that specifically accounts for spatially and temporally varying patterns of sowing dates within models. In this thesis, I present such an assessment for the first time. In the first step (chapter 2), I built a crop C mass balance model (SPAc) that models crop development and C allocation as a response to ambient meteorological conditions. I compared model outputs against C flux and stock observations of six different sites in Europe, and found a high degree of agreement between simulated and measured fluxes (R2 = 0.83). However, the model tended to overestimate leaf area index (LAI), and underestimate final yield. In a model comparison study (chapter 3), I found in cooperation with further researchers that SPAc best reproduces observed fluxes of C and water (owed to the model’s high temporal and process resolution), but is deficient due to a lack in simulating full crop rotations. I then conducted a detailed diagnosis of SPAc through the assimilation of C fluxes and biometry with the Ensemble Kalman Filter (EnKF, chapter 4), and identified potential model weaknesses in C allocation fractions and plant hydraulics. Further, an overestimation of plant respiration and seasonal leaf thickness variability were evident. Temporal parameter variability as a response to C flux data assimilation (DA) is indicative of ecosystem processes that are resolved in NEE data but are not captured by a model’s structure. Through DA, I gained important insights into model shortcomings in a quantitative way, and highlighted further needs for model improvement and future field studies. Finally, I developed a framework allowing for spatio-temporally resolved simulation of cropland C fluxes under observational constraints on land management and canopy greenness (chapter 5). MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) data were assimilated both variationally (for sowing date estimation) and sequentially (for improved model state estimation, using the EnKF) into SPAc. In doing so, I was able to accurately quantify the multiannual (2000-2006) regional C flux and biometry seasonality of maize-soybean crop rotations surrounding the Bondville Ameriflux eddy covariance (EC) site, averaged over 104 pixel locations within the wider area. Results show that MODIS-derived sowing dates and the assimilation of LAI data allow for highly accurate simulations of growing season C cycling at locations for which groundtruth sowing dates are not available. Through quantification of the spatial variability in biometry, NEE, and net biome productivity (NBP), I found that regional patterns of land management are important drivers of agricultural C cycling and major sources of uncertainty if not appropriately accounted for. Observing C cycling at one single field with its individual sowing pattern is not sufficient to constrain large-scale agroecosystem behaviour. Here, I developed a framework that enables modellers to accurately simulate current (i.e. last 10 years) C cycling of major agricultural regions and their contribution to atmospheric CO2 variability. Follow-up studies can provide crucial insights into testing and validating large-scale applications of biogeochemical models.