Integrated Ecosystem Model

The Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center recently sat down for a short conversation with David McGuire, the Principal Investigator of the Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) project and Amy Breen, a project manager and research professor affiliated with the IEM project. We talked about the IEM project, its goals, and significance for studying and managing climate change in Alaska and Northwest Canada.

What is the Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM)?

David McGuire: The IEM for Alaska and Northwest Canada is an effort to try and forecast landscape change within the Alaska and Northwest Canada region.

Amy Breen: The IEM brings together climate driven changes to disturbance, vegetation, permafrost, and hydrology to illustrate how arctic and boreal landscapes may be altered in the future. The coupled model is comprised of three individual ecosystem models because these different drivers don’t occur in isolation.

David McGuire: The IEM is a 5-year project, and we had a pilot year in 2011. This phase is 2012-2016, and we’re just starting the second year of the project.

What is the significance of the study area?

David McGuire: The study area is Alaska and Northwest Canada, which is sometimes referred to as the Western Arctic. In general high latitude regions are expected to experience the greatest amount of warming. They are warming at twice the rate of the global average. Were already seeing a lot of changes occurring this area. Because it is expected to change the fastest, we are trying to get ahead of the curve to understand these changes and the implications of these changes on resource management. Understanding how the landscape may change and affect ecosystem services is the overall thrust of this project.

What kinds of project activities are happening this year?

David McGuire: This year, we have a number of activities. We’re coupling models of vegetation change, ecosystem change, and permafrost properties so we can forecast landscape change.

What kinds of people make up the IEM team?

Amy Breen: The collaborators on the project are from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and we have members from different research communities, including the Geophysical Institute Permafrost Lab, the Institute of Arctic Biology, and the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning.

David McGuire: Another part of the team is the data group and they are responsible for helping us with those issues. We also have software engineers that help us set up the software coupling program. And then we have a couple of research subgroups, one of which is working on tundra fire and treeline dynamics, another is working on thermokarst dynamics, and another is working on wetland dynamics.

How does this project meet regional needs?

David McGuire: There has been a real gap in the needs of resource managers to assess how climate change will affect resources. The models haven’t been developed to do those assessments. Our question is, “how will landscapes change?” Once people get forecasts of how things may change, they can relate the changes to the resources they manage.

Amy Breen: We anticipate that the results from the project will be used by natural resource managers and other stakeholders to predict and plan for potential landscape changes in Alaska and Northwest Canada. 

Learn more about the Integrated Ecosystem Model project and browse related project materials.