CNR-IRSA activities related to INHABIT

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Climate changes

Since 2002, the station LOM1 (Val Masino) is part of the Italian Network for Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER Italy). LTER Italy is included in the European network LTER-Europe since 2006, in turn part of the International Network LTER (ILTER), currently including 40 countries worldwide.
Long-term ecological researches are carried out over a time interval of more than ten years and provide reference scientific basis to distinguish natural ecological processes occurring over long time intervals, from those arising from the impact of human activities on a global scale, such as climate change and / or alteration of nutrient cycling – nitrogen in particular.
The availability of long time series of ecological data also allows to assess the effectiveness of the recovery in environments altered by, for instance, eutrophication, introduction of alien species and soil contamination, thus becoming a planning and verification tool for resources and land management. Long-term ecological research also allows to identify or interpret anomalous or unusual, sometimes severe, events (e.g.: exceptional weather conditions, insect infestation, etc.) that can strongly affect ecological processes.
The long-term ecological studies require: i) the choice of a proper scale of observation in order to understand the processes in place, ii) a strongly interdisciplinary research approach iii) the use of methods ensuring the quality of collected data and their comparability with data from other sets, and iv) the application of standardized analytical procedures allowing a use of the data functional to the prediction of the evolution of natural systems.
Alpine ecosystems have proved to be extremely sensitive to climate changes and other global phenomena, such as the increase in atmospheric deposition of nitrogen. The observed changes in both hydrology and species composition demonstrates how mountain ecosystems can amplify environmental changes and provide early warnings for  "global change".
The presence of seasonal snow cover can amplify climate signals, due to storage and sudden release of water and solutes during snowmelt. High morphological variability (geological substrate, soil type, slope, etc.) characterizing mountain landscape causes great variability in climatic, hydrologic, criologic, and ecological conditions that can change dramatically in a confined space. The extreme characteristics of these environments make inhabiting organisms particularly vulnerable and, at the same time, intrinsic biogeochemical processes can be affected by slight changes in many environmental parameters.
Global changes in mountain regions have a major impact on humanity, as a sixth of the world population lives in river basins fed by snow-melting or glacier waters. Seasonal changes in river discharge and, in particular, reduction in water volume caused by the retreat of glaciers or by decline in snow cover can have negative effects on both the human population and the overall ecosystems functioning. For these reasons, it is crucial to understand how hydrologic processes, biogeochemical cycles and species abundance and diversity in alpine environments can respond to a set of changes, related not only to climate but also to atmospheric deposition of pollutants such as inorganic nitrogen. Knowledge of these processes is essential to design management strategies allowing a sustainable use of natural resources.
Time series available for LOM1 station in Val Masino, in addition to meteorological and hydrological data, involve chemical variables of atmospheric deposition in open field and ‘throughfall’ (under the canopy), from 1995 to 2013, water chemistry of the river Masino from 1997 to 2013 and the chemistry of the soil solution from 2005 to 2013.
As an example, the trend of the concentration of sulfate deposition in the canopy is reported, showing a highly significant decrease in concentration, as also observed in other alpine sites in Europe and the USA.