New LEMONTREE project aims to improve Earth System models


A lemon tree

The Land Ecosystem Models based On New Theory, obseRvations and ExperimEnts (LEMONTREE) has been awarded more than USD 10M over a five-year period.

Professor Colin Prentice, of the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, is the lead scientist in this new five-year project, coordinated by the University of Reading and funded by Schmidt Futures under the umbrella of the Virtual Earth System Research Institute (VESRI).

Our level of ambition is high – but we have already shown that it is possible to make a huge improvement on the state-of-the-art Professor Colin Prentice

The aim of the project is to develop a next-generation model of the terrestrial biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, water cycle and climate. The LEMONTREE approach draws on eco-evolutionary optimality theory as a basis for building ecosystem models that rest on firm theoretical and empirical foundations, providing the basis for greatly improved representations of land-atmosphere exchanges in Earth System models.

LEMONTREE is an international consortium, with additional participants at Columbia University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of California Berkeley, Utrecht University, Seoul National University, Texas Tech University, Tsinghua University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich; with the Met Office (Exeter) and the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF, Reading) as key strategic partners.

Dr Heather Graven, of the Department of Physics at Imperial, is also a principal investigator and will contribute with applications of atmospheric carbon cycle and isotopic measurements for model testing.

High ambition

Professor Prentice said: “This is a remarkable opportunity, made possible by the support of Eric and Wendy Schmidt through recommendation by Schmidt Futures, for this consortium to step up from an informal collaboration (which it has been for several years now) to become a substantially resourced, truly international project.

"Our level of ambition is high – but we have already shown that it is possible to make a huge improvement on the state-of-the-art, by bringing the biological principle of natural selection to bear on the physics and chemistry of land-atmosphere exchanges.

"This project will allow us to develop a new comprehensive land-surface model that should take its place in a new generation of more robust and reliable models of the terrestrial biosphere and its role in the climate system.”

Colin is also Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. Schmidt Futures has expressed interest in exploiting the resulting synergy, and provided additional funds in support of collaborative activities between LEMONTREE and the Leverhulme Centre – with the aim of producing better representations of the present and future risks of wildfire, and their implications for climate.


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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