Earth Sciences Division (ESD) Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)

ESD News and Events Watch ESD on Vimeo

« ESD on New Microbes-to-Biomes Website | Main | O’Brien Fog Paper Featured in EOS »


Predicting Subsurface Processes: Genome to Watershed Scales

Sources: Susan Hubbard, Dan Hawkes, Lisa Kelly

The Genomes-to-Watershed Project (SFA 2.0) team has made significant advances in one short year.

At the one-year anniversary of the DOE-BER-supported Genomes-to-Watershed SFA 2.0 project, Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division (ESD) recently released a video on its groundbreaking vision and plan. In this video, Susan Hubbard (Project Lead for SFA 2.0 and ESD Director) presents an overview of the project and its mission, which is to develop a predictive understanding of complex interactions in natural systems from the genome to the watershed scale, in order to achieve a new class of solutions for environmental and energy challenges.  

“Terrestrial environments are important for a wide range of reasons,” says Hubbard. They support essential systems such as water resources, agriculture, and biogeochemical cycling. But in spite of their importance, “we have only a rudimentary understanding of them, and we certainly do not yet have an ability to predict how they function.” Without this predictive understanding, scientists will not have the ability to develop solutions for and manage these systems in a way that’s optimal and sustainable.

Image credit: Diana Swantek

The project is taking place in the Colorado River Basin, perhaps the most important Western river basin and one that is already threatened by climate change. The SFA 2.0 focuses on understanding how climate and land use affect the metabolic potential of the subsurface, and how the metabolic potential in turn influences biogeochemical cycling in the terrestrial systems. Paired with field and laboratory experiments designed to gain insight about hydrological-biogeochemical processes across a vast scale range, the project is developing a genome-enabled reactive transport watershed simulator—a model that can predict interactions among different elements of the terrestrial environment.

The project team recently held a retreat at Bodega Bay to share many important first-year accomplishments, and to refine a path toward quantifying and predicting the terrestrial environment biogeochemistry at a Colorado field site—from bedrock to canopy, and from genome to watershed to river-basin scales. The team discussed many key findings, including significant advances in quantifying subsurface metabolic potential; the inordinate role of cemolithoautotrophy in subsurface nitrogen cycling revealed through metatranscriptomic exploration; the importance of both hot spots and hot moments for the biogeochemistry of the field-site floodplain; and (for the first time) documentation of the value of genome-informed reaction networks for accurate simulation of larger scale terrestrial environments.

To watch the Genomes-to-Watershed film, made by LBNL video producer Ivan Berry, go to:

To read further about the Genomes-to-Watershed project and recent publications, visit the SFA 2.0 website: ble_systems/

Additional information about the project is provided here: