Subsurface Biogeochemical Research. Click to return to home page.
Department of Energy Office of Science. Click to visit main DOE SC site.

Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program

Building Virtual Ecosystems: Computational Challenges for Mechanistic Modeling of Terrestrial Environments

Report from the March 2014 Workshop

Publication date: February 2015


To explore the potential of a new generation of multiscale, multiphysics models for revolutionizing the understanding of terrestrial ecosystem dynamics, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) held the Computational Challenges for Mechanistic Modeling of Terrestrial Environments workshop on March 26–27, 2014, in Germantown, Maryland.

Three broad scientific challenges were identified. At the scale of individual plants, a more robust, predictive capability requires greater focus on integrating, at the whole-organism level, the rapidly developing mechanistic understanding of plant growth, form, function, and interactions with the surrounding biotic and abiotic environment in the soil and rhizosphere. At the scale of catchments and watersheds, the central challenge is to develop high-resolution watershed-scale models of the hydrological, carbon, and nutrient cycles with tractable representations of the integrated vegetation-hydrological-biogeochemical systems. Cutting across the disparate spatial and temporal scales is the third challenge of improving models for biogeochemical cycling, including more realistic descriptions of microbiological communities and their function and better representations of the effects of small-scale processes and heterogeneities at field scales. These three individual challenges are interlinked, emphasizing the multiscale, interdisciplinary nature of the overarching challenge.

To meet these three challenges, three research opportunities were identified: (1) a virtual plant-soil model that combines mechanistic models of plant growth, form, and function with high-resolution models of hydrological and biogeochemical processes in the surrounding soil and rhizosphere; (2) a virtual plot model that combines multiple virtual plants or parameterizations of individual plants with detailed representations of belowground processes; and (3) a virtual watershed model that tracks fluxes and storage of water, energy, carbon, and nutrients on the surface and in a three-dimensional subsurface.

Suggested citation: U.S. DOE. 2015. Building Virtual Ecosystems: Computational Challenges for Mechanistic Modeling of Terrestrial Environments: Workshop Report, DOE/SC-0171. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

Workshop date: March 26–27, 2014

Download Executive Summary [PDF]

Download full document

  • Higher resolution [PDF, 14mb]
  • Faster download [PDF, 2.3mb]


DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program is now accepting applications! Detailed information about the program, including eligibility requirements and access to the online application system, can be found at: Applications due May 16, 2017 5:00PM Eastern Time

Submit Research Highlights

Now Featuring

Building a Cyberinfrastructure for Environmental System Science: Modeling Frameworks, Data Management, and Scientific Workflows [10/15]

BER Molecular Science Challenges Workshop Report [4/15]

Building Virtual Ecosystems: Computational Challenges for Mechanistic Modeling of Terrestrial Environments [2/15]



Subsurface Biogeochemical-Related BER Research Highlights