BE/CNH: Understanding and Modeling the Scope for Adaptive Management in Agroecosystems in the Pampas: Response to Interannual and Decadal Climate Variability and Other Risk Factors

  • Podesta, Guillermo G. (PI)
  • Katz, Richard W. (CoPI)
  • Balaji, Rajagopalan R. (CoPI)
  • Weber, Elke U. (CoPI)
  • Easterling, William E. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Agricultural ecosystems combine the complexity, multiplicity of scales, and feedbacks of biophysical interactions in natural ecosystems with the additional intricacies of human decision making. Climate variability is one of the top sources of risk to agricultural production. In particular, climate fluctuations on seasonal-to-interannual and interdecadal scales are relevant to decision-making, resource management, and infrastructure planning. On seasonal-to-interannual scales, the emerging ability to forecast regional climate variability associated with the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon offers a natural laboratory to learn how a complex system such as agriculture may respond. An excellent site to study such responses is the Pampas of central-eastern Argentina, a major agricultural region that shows marked interannual and interdecadal climate signals. On interdecadal scales, an increase in spring-summer precipitation since the 1970s has contributed to significant changes in land-use patterns and a large increase in Argentine agricultural output. There are growing concerns about the environmental consequences and the sustainability of production and life support systems, however. This interdisciplinary research project will address these issues, which are part of the dynamic interactions of natural and human components in agroecosystems. Special emphasis will be placed on assessing the scope for adaptive management in response to newly available knowledge on climate variability and recent insights on human decision making. The project will (1) map key components of the decision landscape in agricultural systems of the Pampas; (2) build plausible scenarios of interannual and interdecadal climate variability; (3) assess impacts and outcomes of climate variability; (4) seek to understand how probabilistic climate information and uncertainty about outcomes are received and acted upon; (5) explore best practices for the design and communication of climate information and the characterization of uncertainty; (6) assess consequences on natural systems of human actions; and (7) conduct a self-reflective analysis of factors that promote or impede integrative science research and outreach with stakeholder participation. The project involves linked modeling approaches for generation of climate scenarios and decision outcomes, controlled experiments on decision making and behavior, and participatory research that will draw on contextual knowledge and agricultural stakeholders' experiences and preferences.

The link between climate variability and decision making is a fundamental issue that influences resource management in many regions and sectors. This project will provide an integrated analysis of an important and prevalent complex system (agricultural production) that involves interactions between several natural and human systems. From a perspective of scientific innovation, the project will develop conceptual and procedural approaches to bridge the spatial and temporal scales of climate scenarios and the scales associated with regional impact assessment and resource management. Scale mismatch has been at the heart of problems of climate impact assessment. The project will include a fully probabilistic characterization of uncertainty based on modern statistical and computational techniques. The availability of uncertainty estimates will enhance the salience of project findings for stakeholders. Finally, a reflective analysis of the challenges of interdisciplinary, multiple-place collaboration, and stakeholder involvement in integrative science will stimulate theory development relevant to biocomplexity problems elsewhere. The similarity in production scale, crops grown, and technology of the Pampas to those in other major production areas (such as the U.S. Midwest, Brazil, and Canada) with comparable climate signals suggest a broader relevance of results from the project. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2004 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Effective start/end date9/1/042/28/10


  • National Science Foundation: $1,600,000.00


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