The Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) program, initiated by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2007 with 3 sites, was expanded to 6 sites in 2009 and is expected to grow to at least 8 sites in FY 2014. The CZO program is now maturing into a coordinated network that enables scientific research around terrestrial fluxes of water, carbon and nutrients and informs societal questions around resource management and adaptation to climate change. Individual CZOs have contributed to understanding of the influences of disturbances and of changes in climate on fluxes and stores in critical ecosystems, and to a better predictive ability. CZOs have enabled the disciplinary integration needed to consider controlling processes together, from bedrock to boundary layer, and over sub-daily to millennial or longer times. Together, the CZO network has shown the role of climate versus disturbance on rain, snowfall and snowmelt reaching the ground surface, and the influences of climate, disturbance and regolith properties on partitioning of infiltrated water into evapotranspiration versus streamflow. The influence of disturbance is manifest both through abiotic factors, e.g. boundary-layer meteorology and turbulence, and through biotic influences, e.g. changes in vegetation density due to fire or disease, and thus interception and evapotranspiration. Climatic influences are overlain on this, including i) changes in rain versus snowfall and thus snowpack and soil-water storage, and ii) growing season and thus evapotranspiration. Carbon and nutrient fluxes are closely linked to those of water. Thus rich data sets and improved models from the CZO sites together provide a better understanding of the bi-directional feedbacks between vegetation structure, regolith properties and climate. Going forward, the CZO network as a whole offers well-instrumented sites with many common measurements and multi-disciplinary data across gradient of climate, parent material, vegetation structure and regolith properties. Measurements are at scales that are sufficiently large for research involving water, carbon or nutrient balances. Results are relevant to help guide decisions around vegetation management, and to understand the water, carbon and nutrient implications of vegetation-management options. The CZO network is a community platform for research, with the common, long-term observations across the multiple sites a resource available to all for multi-disciplinary critical-zone science.
Bales R.C., Brooks P.D., Molotch N.P. (2013): The strength of strategically placed in situ networks: The Critical Zone Observatory Program (Invited). Abstract H53L-02 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.