The Intensively Managed Landscape Critical Zone Observatory: A Scientific Testbed for Understanding Critical Zone Processes in Agroecosystems

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Wilson, Christopher G.
Abban, Benjamin
Keefer, Laura L.
Wacha, Kenneth
Dermisis, Dimitrios
Giannopoulos, Christos
Zhou, Shengnan
Goodwell, Allison E.
Woo, Dong Kook
Yan, Qina
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Iowa Nutrient Research Center
The Iowa Nutrient Research Center was established to pursue science-based approaches to evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices and providing recommendations on practice implementation and development. Publications in this digital repository are products of INRC-funded research. The INRC is headquartered at Iowa State University and operates in collaboration with the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa. Additional project information is available at:
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In intensively managed landscapes, interactions between surface (tillage) and subsurface (tile drainage) management with prevailing climate/weather alter landscape characteristics, transport pathways, and transformation rates of surface/subsurface water, soil/sediment, and particulate/dissolved nutrients. To capture the high spatial and temporal variability of constituent transport and residence times in the critical zone (between the bedrock and canopy) of these altered landscapes, both storm event and continuous measurements are needed. The Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory (IML-CZO) is comprised of three highly characterized, well instrumented, and representative watersheds (i.e., Clear Creek, Iowa; Upper Sangamon River, Illinois; and Minnesota River, Minnesota). It is organized to quantify the heterogeneity in structure and dynamic response of critical zone processes to human activities in the context of the glacial and management (anthropogenic) legacies. Observations of water, sediment, and nutrients are made at nested points of the landscape in the vertical and lateral directions during and between storm events (i.e., continuously). The measurements and corresponding observational strategy are organized as follows. First, reference measurements from surface soil and deep core extractions, geophysical surveys, lidar, and hyperspectral data, which are common across all Critical Zone Observatories, are available. The reference measurements include continuous quantification of energy, water, solutes, and sediment fluxes. The reference measurements are complemented with event-based measurements unique to IML-CZO. These measurements include water table fluctuations, enrichment ratios, and roughness as well as bank erosion, hysteresis, sediment sources, and lake/floodplain sedimentation. The coupling of reference and event-based measurements support testing of the central hypothesis (i.e., system shifts from transformer to transporter in IML-CZO due to the interplay between management and weather/climate). Data collected since 2014 are available through a data repository and through the Geodashboard interface, which can be used for process-based model simulations.
This article is published as Wilson, Christopher G., Benjamin Abban, Laura L. Keefer, Kenneth Wacha, Dimitrios Dermisis, Christos Giannopoulos, Shengnan Zhou et al. "The intensively managed landscape critical zone observatory: a scientific testbed for understanding critical zone processes in agroecosystems." Vadose Zone Journal 17, no. 1 (2018): 1-21. doi:10.2136/vzj2018.04.0088. Posted with permission of INRC. Works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties are not copyrighted within the U.S. The content of this document is not copyrighted.