A Princeton Institute for Rainforests and the Amazon including their Nutrients, Hydrology, and the Atmosphere (PIRANHA)
2011 New Investigator Award
The Amazon River Basin is at the heart of a large suite of earth system processes. The rainforest is supported by a remarkable hydroclimate and is home to a large and diverse collection of species. The rainfall and temperature regimes of both intact and human-impacted forest areas are expected to change as a result of deforestation, with potentially large consequences for carbon storage and ecosystems. Understanding how tropical forests will respond to global change is challenging in part because the response of the system will depend on the complex interactions of biogeochemical cycles, hydrology, and atmospheric processes.
To address this challenge, David Medvigy and Lars Hedin are creating a tropical rainforest research community by bringing together Princeton faculty, undergraduates, and researchers at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) called the PIRANHA Consortium. This Consortium will serve as a platform for integrated biological, biogeochemical, and atmospheric investigations relevant to tropical forests and to the impacts of large-scale deforestation.
The PIRANHA Consortium will serve as an extension of the PIs field- and model-based research, sponsored through the Carbon Mitigation Initiative and focused on the response and resilience of tropical ecosystems to global environmental change. In this project, Medvigy and Hedin seek to understand how nutrient feedbacks can affect the strength of the tropical forest carbon sink in the future, to better resolve the processes responsible for the conversion of soil carbon to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and to investigate how plant diversity impacts the response of tropical forests to climate change.
The project will give Princeton students opportunities to actively engage in PIRANHA Consortium meetings, independent research projects, and new course offerings centered on tropical ecosystems such as the Amazon. It is anticipated that a large part of consortium research will involve state-of-the-art terrestrial biosphere models, including GFDL’s LM3, and the ED2 model developed by Medvigy. These models will be integrated into the Princeton undergraduate curriculum. Specifically, user-friendly graphical interfaces to the models will be developed and used in such courses as “Advanced Analysis of Environmental Systems” (CEE/ EEB/ ENV 302), “Ecosystem and Global Change” (EEB/ ENV 417), and “Climate and Terrestrial Biosphere” (GEO 430). This will enable students to develop their own hypotheses about the Amazon and other tropical forests, design experiments to test their hypotheses, run advanced numerical models, and interpret their results.
The consortium faculty members will advise undergraduates who wish to carry out summer research focused on the science of the Amazon and other tropical forests. Undergraduates will be fully integrated into the research groups of faculty members. It is expected that many of these undergraduates will go on to pursue tropical forest-related research for the Junior Projects and/or Senior Theses (JPs/STs). Students will also be able to apply to the consortium for funding needed to obtain materials and supplies for their JPs/STs.
The consortium will meet ~8 times per year on the University campus. The agenda of each consortium meeting will have two components: small-group meetings and a plenary lunch. The small-group meetings will be organized around a single "focal scientist". The focal scientist may be a Princeton Faculty member, a GFDL researcher, or an invited faculty member from another university. Over the course of a day, the focal scientist will have short meetings with the student members of the PIRANHA consortium. The focal scientist will also be encouraged to bring along a junior member of his/her research group. The junior researcher will also meet with consortium members, and will be able to give perspective on his/her own recent transition from undergraduate to graduate researcher. The plenary lunch will bring together all members of the PIRANHA consortium, and will allow members the opportunity to informally update each other on research ideas and progress.