Climate-smarter and sustainable: the future of landscape management in Italy

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Environment and natural resources meet information and communication technology: High Performance Computing, advanced data processing, and high-resolution climate projections are the key to address and reduce risks associated to climate change. CMCC Foundation is partner in a research project that involves institutes, universities, companies, regional environmental protection agencies based in Italy.

High performance computing, climate projections, data analysis techniques, agriculture, cutting-edge applications and services for better land management: if we were to describe the Highlander project, these are probably the words we would use. Highlander – High performance computing to support smart land services wants to prevent or mitigate climate change impacts on land. Thanks to High Performance Computing, the project integrates high-resolutions climate simulations, satellite observations, ground monitoring into decision support tools for a better and sustainable management of interacting natural resources, human systems and activity sectors. Among others, Highlander wants to demonstrate the potential of the following services:  an open data portal on climate and climate-related hazards, irrigation scheduling guided by forecasts of crops water requirements, water resources and soil management, forest fires prediction and control, natural parks management, assessments and projections of suitable conditions for ecosystems, animals and people.
The project is coordinated by CINECA, which will make available its supercomputing infrastructure. With 8 out of 9 partners that are research institutes, universities, companies, regional environmental protection agencies based in Italy, the project has markedly a national scope.

The CMCC Foundation Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change is partner of this project, with 4 among its scientific Divisions involved: IAFES – Impacts on Agriculture, Forests and Ecosystem Services, CSP – Climate Simulations and Predictions, REMHI – REgional Models and geo-Hydrological Impacts, and ASC – Advanced Scientific Computing.
CSP – Climate Simulations and Predictions Division will realize high-resolution global climate simulations (1/4°, ~ 27-28 km) for the future, that will be exploited by REMHI – REgional Models and geo-Hydrological Impacts Division to develop high-resolution climate simulations for Italy (~ 2 km) using the model COSMO-CLM. It’s a level of spatial resolution never reached before: the current climate projections for Italy are the ones produced in the past by the CMCC using the same model (~ 8 km spatial resolution) or the climate projections provided by the European downscaling experiment  EURO-CORDEX (~ 12 km). Climate projections on the future, but also an accurate analysis of the most recent past decades: REMHI will produce also a high-resolution downscaling of ERA5 reanalyses released by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF, partner of the project); reanalyses represent the best spatialized and physically based reconstruction of the observed climate as it has evolved during recent decades thanks to the combination of climate modeling and data assimilation from meteorological stations.
ASC – Advanced Scientific Computing Division will design and implement data processing workflow and techniques of analyses for the huge amount of climate and land data, essential for the development of the case studies of the project, defined by experts DApOS (Downstream Applications and pre-Operational Services), and in particular for those developed by CMCC researchers. Moreover, ASC is involved in the case study “Forest fire predictions”: it will further process data obtained by TreeTalkerFire sensors already used in the Interreg Italy Greece OFIDIA2, a project coordinated by ASC, in order to provide a forest fire forecasting service. This service will guarantee the green areas and natural parks’ management to be able to preserve the wooded heritage of the area, and to guarantee the safety of human settlements nearby.

IAFES – Impacts on Agriculture, Forests and Ecosystem Services with Monia Santini, CMCC Division Director of IAFES and CMCC Scientific Leader of the project, will coordinate a case studies series on land suitability for forests, soil erosion hazard, water resources availability and human wellbeing.
Climate change influences the availability of water resources and makes more and more necessary an accurate distribution between civil, industrial, energy, agricultural and ecological use. “We intend to develop a case study on the future sustainability of the use of water for human uses and natural functions starting from analyses carried out for the catchment of Ofanto river, in Puglia”, explains Monia Santini. “Thanks to the high-resolution climate projections developed in the framework of the project exploiting the potential of high performance computing systems, we will assess future changes in hydrological droughts events, that is reduced river flow as well as groundwater or reservoir levels, induced by continued meteorological droughts – precipitation shortages -.”
The objective will be therefore to transfer this case study to other Italian river basins.

Another key case study developed by CMCC researchers will be focused on forests (land suitability for vegetation). “Starting from the current distribution of woody and herbaceous species” explains Sergio Noce, CMCC researcher at IAFES, “projections will be produced on the possible modifications (shift, reduction, expansion) of the typical habitats of forest species following climate evolution. The case study benefits from an analysis of the climate impacts on forest vegetation carried out by the CMCC Foundation for Southern Europe and Russia, but HIGHLANDER aims at providing results for Italy at a higher resolution, which will support the forestry sector.”
Extreme climate conditions affect the maintenance of soil functions, especially in areas particularly subject to rainfall-induced erosion. The case study Soil Erosion developed by the CMCC is based on a consolidated empirical model to generate projections about the potential loss of soil due to intense rainy events and land management on both forests and agricultural areas, and has been partly elaborated in the framework of the Demo Case C3S SOIL EROSION involving CMCC IAFES, REMHI and ASC Divisions. The application of the model at national scale (using even higher resolution data) will allow to identify areas particularly at risk under changes in climate variability and to formulate strategies to reduce soil erosion through appropriate working practices and soil protection measures.
Climate change tests the ability of individuals to perceive physical and mental well-being conditions in daily life, especially in the context of large urban settlements. “Combining some climate variables such as temperature and relative humidity, “Monia Santini adds, “we will calculate human wellbeing indicators to study the changes in those climate conditions more or less comfortable for the population, starting from the results of a study recently published on Environmental Research Letters by CMCC researchers of the CSP Division. The high resolution climate simulations adopted in HIGHLANDER will allow us to outline and reproduce the effects due to the structure of cities, better assessing the differences between urban and rural settlements.”

For further information, visit the official website of the project Highlander.

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