Wednesday, May 25, 2016


This is a project we presented for the National Projects (PRIN 2015). The project is very good. Participants outstanding. Competition very high. I do not understand because our government does not double or triple the funding available. A little effort would have enormous effects, especially in the morale of the troops.

What is looking for doing: Vegetation effects on water partitioning and mixing across the Earth’s Critical Zone: observations and predictions under environmental changes.

The Abstract:

Earth’s Critical Zone, the thin outer layer of our planet from the top of the tree canopy to the bottom of water aquifers that supports almost all human activity, is experiencing ever-increasing pressure from growth in human population, wealth and climatic changes. Understanding, predicting and managing intensification of water use and associated economic services, while mitigating and adapting to rapid climate change and biodiversity decline, is now one of the most pressing societal challenges of the 21st century. Thus, the knowledge of how vegetation affects water storage and flow pathways is essential for a more efficient and sustainable management of water resources. In spite of past efforts to assess the role of vegetation on the water cycle, a thorough understanding of the ecohydrological mechanisms according to which vegetation stores and transpires water, interacts with runoff generation and affects flow regimes is still missing. Particularly, recent works argued the truthfulness of the widely adopted paradigm of a single ecohydrological reservoir, and suggested that two ‘water worlds', one originating groundwater and stream runoff, and one associated with the vegetation water uptake, may exist. The lack of water exchange between the two soil pools provides a fundamental challenge to current conceptualizations and analyses of water-cycle processes.

The general goal of the project is to gain new insights on the water partitioning and mixing within the Earth Critical Zone by testing hypotheses of eco-hydrological separation of vegetation water use. For this, the project will couple advanced isotopic, geophysical and micro-meteorological monitoring with detailed eco-hydrological models, and will specifically focus on the Mediterranean area. Finally, the project will develop a framework to translate the new critical zone knowledge into evidence to support policy and management decisions concerning water and land use in forested and agricultural ecosystems.

The project includes the organisation a Critical Zone Observatories Network. This includes five field sites which will provide a consistent access to different climatic, hydrological and ecological conditions which are representative of the Mediterranean and Alpine-Mediterranean environments. Each Observatory involves co-located research to be conducted by inter-disciplinary teams. By testing hypotheses of eco-hydrological separation of vegetation water use across multiple sites, the project will advance our capability to predict the effects of vegetation and climate change on water availability in space and time.

1 - State of the art

Earth’s Critical Zone (CZ), the thin outer layer of our planet from the top of the tree canopy to the bottom of water aquifers that supports almost all human activity, is experiencing ever-increasing pressure from growth in human population, wealth and climatic changes. Within the next decades, global demand for food and fuel is expected to double along with a more than 50% increase in demand for clean water. Understanding, predicting and managing intensification of water use and associated economic services, while mitigating and adapting to rapid climate change and biodiversity decline, is now one of the most pressing societal challenges of the 21st century.

Although over the past 60 years numerous studies have examined soil hydrologic processes, vegetation function, and micro-climate independently, investigating the feedbacks among these core areas has only recently become a research priority. Fundamental questions on vegetation’ effect on the hydrologic cycle remain unanswered: how is the vegetation water use linked to the water flows to groundwater and streams? to what extent does transpiration affect streamflow and groundwater? how does complex terrain, soil characteristics and land use influence the feedbacks between hydrology and ecology? Answering these questions is key to assess the influence of changing vegetation cover on hydrologic ecosystem services in agroforest environments.

Current soil-vegetation-atmosphere (SVAT) models assume that groundwater, streamflow and vegetation transpiration are all sourced and mediated by the same well mixed water reservoir—the soil (Romano et al., 2013). Indeed, a main tenant of forest and irrigation hydrology is that vegetation transpires water that would otherwise form streamflow and feed groundwater within a well-mixed subsurface reservoir. This vision has been recently and fundamentally challenged by a number of studies (Brooks et al., 2010; Penna et al., 2013; Good et al., 2015), which have shown evidence of eco-hydrological separation (the “two water world hypothesis”, McDonnell et al., 2014) —meaning that the soil water that supplies vegetation transpiration is isolated from the water that recharges groundwater and replenishes streamflow. Evaristo et al. (2015) provides widespread evidence of eco-hydrological separation across different biomes by using hydrogen and oxygen isotopic data. The lack of water exchange between soil pools questions previous conceptualizations and analyses of water-cycle processes (see Jasechko et al., 2013, for example), because it implies that methods for studying water partitioning that use measurements of isotope tracers in streams may be blind to the part of the soil-water balance that involves vegetation and soil evaporation.

These first studies delineate novel research lines because suggest a well compartmentalized eco-hydrological system, and indicate that vegetation uses, at least under some conditions, more tightly bound soil water than easily mobile soil water. Given that water moves through plants via gradients of water potential, the use of more tightly bound water, energetically more difficult to obtain, remains counterintuitive (Cassiani et al., 2015). Testing this ‘two water worlds (2WW) hypothesis’ represents therefore a grand challenge in hydrology (McDonnell, 2014; Good et al., 2015; Bowen, 2015) and would advance our understanding of relevant soil-vegetation-atmosphere feedbacks which shape hydrological fluxes and water availability under the impact of environmental changes.


Bowen G., 2015: Hydrology: The diversified economics of soil water. Nature, 525 (7567), 43-44.

Brooks R. et al., 2010: Ecohydrologic separation of water between trees and streams in a Mediterranean climate. Nature Geoscience, 3:100–104.

Cassiani G. et al., 2015: Monitoring and modelling of soil-plant interactions: The joint use of ERT, sap flow and eddy covariance data to characterize the volume of an orange tree root zone. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 19 (5), 2213-2225.

Evaristo J. et al., 2015: Global separation of plant transpiration from groundwater and streamflow. Nature, 525, 91-94.

Good S.P. et al., 2015: Hydrologic connectivity constrains partitioning of global terrestrial water fluxes. Science, 349 (6244), 175-177.

Jasechko, S., Sharp, Z.D., Gibson, J.J., Birks, S.J., Yi, Y., Fawcett, P.J., 2013: Terrestrial water fluxes dominated by transpiration. Nature, 496, 347-350.

McDonnell J. J., 2014. The two water worlds hypothesis: eco-hydrological separation of water between streams and trees? WIREs Water 2014.

Penna D. et al., 2013. Tracing the water sources of trees and streams: isotopic analysis in a small pre-alpine catchment. Proc. Env. Sci., 19, 106 - 112.

Romano N. et al., 2013: Parameterization of a bucket model for soil-vegetation-atmosphere modeling under seasonal climatic regimes. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 15, 3877-3893.

2 - Some of the methodology

The main goal of WATER-MIX is to advance the understanding of water partitioning and mixing within the Earth Critical Zone (CZ) by testing hypotheses of eco-hydrological separation of vegetation water use. For this, WATER-MIX will couple advanced isotopic, geophysical and micro-meteorological monitoring with detailed eco-hydrological models, and will particularly focus on the implications for water flow partitioning and water availability in the Mediterranean area. The investigation will sample across a transect of climatic, vegetation and elevation gradients, including both forested and agricultural ecosystems. Finally, the proposal will develop a framework to translate novel CZ knowledge into evidence to support water/land use policy and management decisions.

We define the following three key objectives for the project:
1) advancing the monitoring of water exchange and partitioning across the CZ by using integrated high-resolution isotopic, geophysical and hydro-meteorological measurements from point to catchment scale;
2) coupling the high-resolution CZ data set with eco-hydrological models at multiple scales to test hypotheses of i) eco-hydrological separation of vegetation water use , ii) residence time distribution and iii) energy partitioning across the CZ; 3) developing a framework to translate the new CZ-hydrology knowledge into evidence to support policy and management decisions concerning water and land use in forested and agricultural ecosystems.

2.2 The Critical Zone Observatories Network

The Project Critical Zone Observatories Network (CZN) includes five field sites (Fig. 1) which will provide a coherent access to different climatic, hydrological and ecological conditions which are representative of the Mediterranean and Alpine-Mediterranean environments. The CZN includes humid areas where vegetation water use and precipitation input are in phase, wet zones where seasonality of precipitation is low, and dry zones where water stress is high. Both forested and agricultural land use are represented in the CZN. Each CZ Observatory (CZO) involves co-located research to be conducted by interdisciplinary teams. The suite of measurements includes stable isotopic measurements, geophysical determination of soil water spatial distribution, land-atmosphere exchange of water, and linkages to the biosphere, surface and ground water systems. The CZOs are described in Section 3.

2.3 Structure of the work

To implement the project work, five WPs are defined and linked through a continuous exchange of information, with WP1 dedicated to the project management and dissemination of results. WP2 will develop a homogeneous protocol to integrate isotopic and geophysical observations with hydro-meteorological monitoring at various spatial scales to characterize water partitioning and balance across CZN. WP3 aims (i) at advancing isotope monitoring of vegetation and soil waters in order to help the identification of water pools and mixing processes and (ii) developing and implementing high-resolution, minimally invasive geophysical approaches to soil moisture content distributions, across the CZN. WP4 will couple the high-resolution CZN data set generated by WP2 and 3 with eco-hydrological models at multiple scales to test hypotheses of i) eco-hydrological separation of vegetation water use, ii) residence time distribution and iii) energy partitioning across the CZ. WP5 will develop a framework to translate the new CZ-hydrology knowledge into evidence to support policy and management decisions concerning water and land use in forested and agricultural ecosystems.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

GEOframe a system for doing hydrology by computer

This was the remodelling of a presentation I gave at the CUASHI biennial meeting in 2008. It is, more or less, the manifest that guided me, throughout the modelling I did in the subsequent years, and I am still pursuing. Some reference can be a little old, but not certainly obsolete. While revising it in preparing my last two presentation in Parma and Grado,  I found that the general idea still remains valid, and it seems not anachronistic.

There is actually some news which regards integration in the adoption of OMS and the possibility to use related web services. Click on the figure above to see the presentation. Any comment is welcomed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tools and methods for operational hydrological forecasting

This is the talk I gave at the meeting entitled "Numeric simulations as a tool for prevention by hydro-geological hazards" in Grado. I covered many of the arguments I usually talk about: modelling, hydro-informatics, and hazards. Nothing especially new for my followers. Just presented in a different way. But, you know, something also perspectives count.

The meeting was nice and I could see what some colleagues and some Italian institutions are doing, which is always important. I did not always agreed with what I herd. However most of the participant, at least those I could see in the morning sessions, gave me the impression of dedicated people. Which is encouraging. Clicking on the figure, you can see the presentation in Italian. English presentation will follow soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The JGrass-NewAGE system essentials: concepts, deployment, case studies and use cases

This is the talk I gave in Parma at ARPAE. In a mood for collaboration, I presented our modelling ssytem JGrass-NewAGE and out process-based model GEOtop 2.0. The presentation about GEOtop does not contain anything essentially new. It is a synthesis of the talk I gave in San Francisco in December 2013 (I and II). The presentation about JGrass-NewAGE, at the beginning, revisited a presentation I gave in 2008 at CUASHI biennial meeting (and includes now OMS instead than OpenMI)
However, it continues by showing and discussing some of the main components of the system, now documented in the GEOframe blog. Eventually shows some applications of the model and some ways to combine the components in modelling solutions.
The fact that many thoughts that I made at that time are still valid is reassuring. Obviously now we are much more close to the objective, and the codes are more robust and reliable than eight years ago.  Clicking on the figure above, please find the presentation on one of my channel in SlideShare. A longer version of the concepts part will be in a companion posts.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

PRECISE: PRocess-based ECohydrology In grasSland Ecosystems

We presented Project PRECISE to the last EUREGIO call. We know that competition is high but the project objctive are really important: of practical and theoretical use. Besides, they are based on existing experimental infrastructures and models, which would have the occasion to be maintained and evolved.  Collaborations inside the project would be of very high quality.

The overall goal of the project PRECISE is to advance ecohydrological modeling in mountain grassland ecosystems (with an eye to towards generalisation for other types of vegetation), in order to have quantitative instruments that supports management and impact assessment studies. In particular, we want to improve our understanding and modeling capability of the effects of climate, soil, topography and plant functional types on the water balance (with a particular focus on evapotranspiration - ET) and vegetation productivity in alpine grassland ecosystems in a range of scales from plot to hillslope.

We address the following research questions:

R1. How does plant functional diversity and plant water-use strategy influence the watervarying abiotic conditions (i.e. soil physics, topography, climate)?

R2. Which is the relative role of biotic (plant functional diversity) versus abiotic (soils, topography, climate) processes in determining the spatial and-temporal variability of ET from the plot to the hillslope scale?

R3. Which is the right level of complexity necessary in models to produce R3 at any scale of interest?
R4. How to take advantage of a combination of advanced multi-sensor, multi scale observations to better constrain and improve spatial accuracy in coupled, process based ecohydrological models?

1.2 State of the art

1.2.1 Ecohydrological modeling of plant-water interactions

In recent years, plant-physiology studies provided an increasingly detailed knowledge of the small details of plants behavior, but only some of which started to be inserted in ecohydrological models (Fatichi et al., 2015b). These include stomata actions and photosynthesis. Two main categories of models can be roughly individuated to this respect: those who approach the problem very mechanistically (Fatichi et al., 2012a), by adding detailed processes parameterizations, and those who make reference to optimality principles (Prentice et al., 2015), claiming that feedback mechanisms were discovered during plants evolution to maintain good performances under sub-optimal conditions (Prentice et al., 2015).
Most advanced plot-to-catchment scale models include a three-dimensional treatment of the water fluxes in soil, explicit spatial variability of atmospheric forcing and turbulence, and a well-balanced complexity in the formulation of the water and energy budgets. These aspects cannot be simply reduced to factors external to the vegetation dynamics, when focusing on the hydrological cycle, and not on a single plant. Among these models are GEOtop-dv (Della Chiesa et al., 2014; Endrizzi et al., 2014) and Tethys-Chloris (Fatichi et al., 2012a, 2012b).
To further develop this models, a new infrastructure is deemed necessary in order to enable comparisons of the alternative models that are emerging very fast from research. In fact, the monolithic informatics of traditional design (Rizzoli et al., 2004) hinder any change of the code and slow-down progresses of research. Fortunately, recently “component-oriented” modeling approaches (e.g. David et al., 2013; Formetta et al., 2014) were deployed. Such approaches make it easier to change modules simulating specific processes, while maintaining unchanged the others.
Three modeling challenges are faced by modelers. The first is to model water and carbon processes of a single plant in its entirety from roots to leafs, upscaling cellular micro-physiology at a reasonable coarse-grained level. The second challenge is to differentiate vegetation types in a sound way. Today this is addressed by abstracting plants in functional types (PFT, e.g. Bonan, 2002), which definition is widely criticized. More recently, however, research has focused on the definition of plant traits which correspond more closely to models’ parameters (Fyllas et al., 2014). The third challenge is to link plant physiology with the biosphere as a whole, considering the interactions with pedo- and atmosphere (including spatial and temporal patterns). This task, has, in turn, many aspects. It involves: (1) an appropriate modeling of the environmental conditions, especially turbulence (Bertoldi et al., 2007; Siqueira et al., 2009);(2) the mathematical description of soil water interaction with roots and the reciprocal influence of plants for accessing energy and nutrient resources (Manoli et al., 2014); (3) a more accurate separation of soil evaporation from transpiration (Jung et al., 2010; Lawrence et al., 2007); (4) and of plant transpiration from groundwater and streamflow (Evaristo et al., 2015); (5) and, finally, the need to upscale the mathematics of plants behavior at the hillslope scale, with the appropriate degree of complexity. This last point is a key issue, especially in mountain terrain, given the nonlinear dynamics inherent to hydrological and vegetation processes. Although, the process’ importance and heterogeneity clearly changes with the spatial scale, the conceptualization remains the same, and - so far - similar approaches have been used on very different scales (Pappas et al., 2015). On the other hand, the pool of observational data vastly expanded in the past couple decades, bearing opportunities for modellers to pursue quantitative explanations of what is observed, and predict the spatial variation of parameters. The challenge is now to make use of the extensive data pool to test hypotheses generated from optimality principles, select the one that gives the right answer, and finally meet the requirement of models reliability (Prentice et al., 2015).

1.2.2 Experimental estimation of plant-water interactions

In-depth understanding of plant-water interactions drives accurate quantification of the water budget, where biophysical parameters (e.g. biomass) play a key role. However, to correctly assess canopy stomatal conductance and biophysical parameters controlling the water balance equation, plant functional diversity (i.e. biomass abundance of grasses, herbs, legumes, dwarf shrubs) have to be considered. Regarding ET, which is the key part in the water budget driven by vegetation, plant water-use strategies of existing species within individual plant functional types significantly bias biomass-ET correlations (Della Chiesa et al., 2014; Leitinger et al., 2015). Mitchell et al., (2008) already defined ‘hydraulic functional types (HFT)’, which revealed promising results to characterize plant communities regarding their ecohydrological characteristics. However, although (1) methods to assess plant trait diversity in the field (Lavorel et al., 2008) and (2) a trait database with steadily increasing numbers of plant traits (Kattge et al., 2011) exist, this aspect is virtually inexistent in ecohydrological models. Moreover, once the implementation of plant functional diversity is satisfactorily achieved, the dynamics of ET under field conditions (i.e. soil moisture, and microclimate) have to be introduced to finally assess needed crop ET. When measuring ET, two types can be distinguished: (1) water budget- and (2) water vapour transfer measurements. Water budget methods measure incoming and outgoing fluxes of water, while water vapour transfer methods assess the flow of water vapour. Most known among the latter is Eddy Covariance, operating at field scale and not usable to fully address the water budget. Among the water budget methods, lysimeter measurements are of growing interest, as they operate at plot scale and with individual samples (also referred to as ‘sample’ scale). High precision lysimeters evaluate all the water budget components and are state-of-the-art to entangle biotic responses (Schrader et al., 2013). Accompanying phytosociological-, soil physical-, and soil hydrological data are needed to fully explore the relationship between biomass and crop ET. Moreover, lysimeters are suitable to separate evaporation from transpiration for varying micrometeorological conditions and soil characteristics ,providing valuable parameters for eco hydrological modeling. The overall aim of in-situ water budget analyses in PRECISE is to provide guidelines for ecohydrological model selection, considering sensitivity of model output to input parameters in order to subsequently detect structural deficits of the model itself (i.e. to reduce model complexity where possible and increase precision of system representation).

1.2.3 Use of proximal sensing of vegetation for ecohydrological modeling

Plant-water interactions can be addressed form the cellular up the global scale, and are studied by different scientific communities. There is an inconsistency – both in term of approaches and scales of interests - between the lysimeter community, focused on confined vegetation patches, the Eddy Covariance (EC) community (represented by the FLUXNET-ICOS networks), measuring carbon and water fluxes at the ecosystem level, the hydrological community working at watershed scale, and the remote sensing (RS) community working at regional scale (Fatichi et al., 2015b). If data from these communities can be interconnected, a step-change in the scientific understanding of ecohydrological cycling will be achievable. However, scale gaps first need to be bridged.
UAV platforms are a key instrument for solving many of the scale issues in measuring and modeling processes involving vegetation interactions with the earth and the atmosphere. First, UAV-borne observations can support ground measurements, allowing not only to upscale local observations to entire ecosystems, but also to interpret limited observations in a wider context. Second, they can be integrated with hydrological models both by providing high-resolution distributed input data, and for evaluating model performances. Third, they are a unique source of validation data for remote sensing observations.
UAV applications in geoscience, rely on the collection of multi-, hyper-spectral in the visible and near infrared portion of the spectrum and thermal imagery. The first allows retrieving information of vegetation structure, calculating vegetation indexes, like NDVI, and inverting radiative transfer models for retrieving spatially explicit information about biophysical parameters (Calderón et al., 2013; Duan et al., 2014; Zarco-Tejada et al., 2012). The second is useful for measuring land surface temperature (LST) at a very fine resolution, up to the single leaves (Gonzalez-Dugo et al., 2013).
The combination of an energy balance model with UAV thermal infrared data with a resolution of few centimetres offers a new perspective for ET and SM mapping. Involved processes can be addressed at a proper spatial scale. One promising approach is the two-source energy balance model (TSEB) (Kustas and Norman, 1999), and it extensions ALEXI/DisALEXI (Anderson et al., 2008), which computes the surface energy budget for the soil and canopy components directly from LST and LAI observations. From the point of view of the spatial and temporal resolution, the availability of UAVs allows a big improvement with respect to satellites (Hoffmann et al., 2015).
In this project, we want to exploit hi-resolution maps of vegetation properties, LST and surface energy fluxes for a spatially distributed validation of process-based, distributed ecohydrological models. The current research challenge is to directly implement in process-based models the possibility to use observations coming from remote and proximal sensing. In this sense, high resolution data integrated with the modular modeling system we will implement in this project will offer unforeseen chances for testing new hypotheses with different model formulations.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Why putting on-line Project Proposals ? Well, I think this is, one step in "open sourceness" and in replicability of research. I usually put a lot of efforts in writing proposals, and most of the time they do not obtain the financial support they were written for. So they remain in one of mine (informatics) drawers and lay forgotten. To this destiny is certainly preferable a public exposition where other researchers can find, if possible, inspiration. I obviously hope that my projects get financed,  and so, I hope for this one. If approved it will give support to a young start-up (of my former Ph.D. students) and to some new postdocs, and/or doctoral students.

Adige-CARITRO, is a project presented for the CARITRO call 2016. It is, in a sense, the continuation of the CLIMAWARE project, and its aim is to produce an operational core modelling solution for River Adige. This work is based on OMS3 and JGrass-NewAGE but, obviously, it will contain the huge set of refinements necessary to have a working model, and will include the large database we created in other projects, and especially with funding from CLIMAWARE and GLOBAQUA.

The Adige-CARITRO model will be able to estimate all the hydrological flows (discharge, evapotranspiration, recharge, liquid precipitation and snowfall) in the basin,  divided into sub-basins of few square kilometers (for a total of several thousand sub-basins ).  Modelling will include reservoirs, intakes,  the main lakes.
This will allow  to have a capillary control over the hydrology of the basin, even in real-time, either for the management of water uses (irrigation, snow, production of energy) and extreme phenomena (floods and drought ) and for the evaluation of ecosystem services related to water. It will also allows to make realistic projections of the effects of climate change in the Trentino-Alto Adige.
This project will focus on deployment of modeling solutions that require great integration between databases and models, as well as the development of appropriate tools for processing, analysis and representation of the output data. The project will also pursue some theoretical developments  which will be promptly implemented.

The project is made in collaboration with MobyGIS which will produce the snow modelling trough its platform MySnowmaps. By clicking on the image above you can download the project.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Age-ranked hydrological budgets and a travel time description of catchment hydrology

This new paper submitted to HESS and available in HESSD deals with the theory of travel times. It summarises some of our work of  the last year, whose partial results I had  the occasion to discuss in some Conferences.

As the abstract says, the theory of travel time and residence time distributions is reworked from the point of view of the hydrological storages and fluxes involved. The forward and backward travel time distri- bution functions are defined in terms of conditional probabilities. We explain Niemi's formula and show how it can be interpreted as an expression of the Bayes theorem. Some connections between this theory and population theory are identified by introducing an expression which connects life expectancy with travel times. The theory can be applied to conservative solutes, including a method of estimating the storage selection functions. An example, based on the Nash hydrograph, illustrates some key aspects of the theory.

Any comment is welcomed.