Temporal Distribution

Why is timing important?

Reporting on carbon stock change has an inherent temporal component, as it requires tracking the interactions between carbon pools through time. To track the interactions between carbon pools, they must be on a comparable temporal scale. While tracking changes through multiple pools, from multiple modules through time is a relatively simple concept, it is made more difficult as modules must be built and calibrated for timeframes that are appropriate for the pools that are being modelled.

For example, an empirical forest growth module may provide annual growth data while the debris module may operate monthly and the soil carbon module daily. The temporal scale in FLINT is referred to as time-steps.

Time-steps are lengths of time over which operations are reported. It is only at the end of a time-step that carbon can be moved from one pool to another. For example, for carbon to move from pool A to B, to C, it will take two time-steps. Time-steps are used to reduce the processing requirements of the model. The finer the step (i.e. the shorter it is), the more processing is required for simulations. Because of time-steps, rather than continuous changes, there is a ‘graininess’ in the output data of FLINT.

How is the timing of modules handled in the FLINT?

As a balance between the graininess of output data and processing, the standard time-step in the FLINT is one month. However, it can be varied by the user. One month is the recommended time-step for modelling carbon; however daily steps are recommended for modelling nitrogen. With a standard time-step of one month, the FLINT automatically adjusts the output of each module through the unit controller.

The ability of FLINT to control the timing and flow of inputs and outputs from modules that operate at different time steps without adjusting the modules themselves is one of its key features. To achieve this, modules are run at the time step that they have been built and calibrated for. This minimises the graininess of the results without exacerbating the error. Simply running an annual model at daily time steps can lead to significant errors.

During a simulation, the FLINT will run at the finest time step of any input module or the output module. For example, if the soil module runs at a daily time step, then the FLINT will run daily. The other modules will run at their native temporal resolution. The FLINT will handle the interpolation of low temporal resolution data to high-resolution data by proportionally allocating module output. For example, if running at a daily time step the annual module will have the total results divided between the number of days in the year. The allocation does not need to be linear and it can take other forms, for example, exponential. The operations in the FLINT will ensure that any sub-time step information is reported as such in the flux summary tables and that FLINT calculates the appropriate summary statistics. What if a disturbance occurs partway through a time-step?

Depending on the temporal resolution that the system is running at, disturbances may occur partway through a time step. The FLINT is designed to simulate this. For example, a forest harvest is expected to occur at a point in time during a year. A harvest operation will likely occur over many weeks, but for an individual small area, the harvest operation is likely to occur on a single day. In this example, the forest growth module attached to the FLINT is an annual growth model. A clearfell harvest occurs on day 200 of a growth year.

In this case, the FLINT has the growth data for the entire year. It multiplies the growth by 200/365 and applies this to the pools before the harvest. The harvest event then occurs. The FLINT then sends the growth module the new data for the year: updates to the pools (in this case all 0) and age (again, reset to 0 as this is a clearfell). Using this data the model then provides a new data point. This is then grown on for a full year from the new data point, and the growth data is then proportioned back to the end of the original year using the same process described previously.