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Future Landscapes

Interoperable Modelling

Designing an open source modelling system to assess productivity potential and water quality contaminant dynamics at farm and catchment scales

Iom Vision Slide 3x2


Challenge funding: $900,000

Research duration: February 2017 – April 2020

What Are We Doing?

Transitioning New Zealand’s agricultural landscape to a more diverse and resilient mosaic of land uses requires understanding how land management and water quality interact, and how targeted management can achieve our shared values. This requires our ability to model these interactions using open-source interoperable models feeding off low- or no-cost, readily available and high-quality data.

Interoperable Modelling research is developing a national modelling system that assesses the environmental, production and economic implications of land use and land use change, at farm and catchment scales. The goal is to create a trusted tool that helps individuals and communities achieve agreed land and water quality outcomes.

Researchers have identified an agreed initial set of models, data sources, and visualisation components, and are working with a software platform for integrating and accessing the components. Our programme is co-funded by stakeholders to provide a platform where the best models can ‘talk’ to each another.

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • The Interoperable Modelling science team is working to implement a functioning and interoperable set of models. The platform is being built on the best available data to provide much faster, cheaper analyses and visualisation experiences. Outputs will enable the measurement of national scale change (eg land use) and regulatory limits.
  • There are 10 parties actively involved with the development of the platform through contributing data, sharing code, creating solutions and co-funding. A comprehensive report on interoperable modelling was prepared collaboratively with input from technical experts from 14 organisations.
  • An initial set of models was implemented in the open-source DeltaShell framework and trialled in Aparima catchment in Southland.
  • The initial set of models will focus on contaminant generation and transport, water resources and optimisation, in static and dynamic catchment models.

Team Snapshot

Research Outputs


Land-Water Interoperable Models

Sandy Elliott, Tom Evans, Rogerio Cichota, Utkur Djanibekov, Alex Herzig, Bethanna Jackson, Daniel Lagrava Sandoval, Stephen McDonald, Juan Monge, Annette Semadeni-Davies, Mike Taves, Christophe Thiange, Ronaldo Vibart, Steve Wakelin, Sharleen Yalden, Jing Yang, Harry Yoswara
Project summary, July 2020

Eleven model components covering water quantity, quality, production and economics were set up within a framework (Delta Shell) using established standards for model interfaces (BMI), variable naming (from CSDMS) and various standard file formats. We also attempted to implement Overseer, but could not fully achieve this, partly due to reliance on an organisation external to the project team. The models were set up for a trial catchment, the Aparima, and assemblies were run successfully within the DeltaShell environment. Model output was able to be displayed within the Delta Shell environment using the visualisation libraries and user interface native to Delta Shell, although some additional code was required. All the model components, apart from Overseer, have been provided as free and open-source components available on a data repository. Despite these successes, the project team recommends that an alternative coupling approach based on running model components be trialled. Such a system has several advantages over the Windows desktop approach of Delta Shell.

Interoperable Modelling – spatial economic optimisation

Alexander Herzig, Utkur Djanibekov, Steve Wakelin, Juan Monge
Report prepared by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research for NIWA, July 2020

In this report we describe the application of the spatial modelling and optimisation framework LUMASS as a spatial optimisation tool in the Interoperable Modelling Project. We demonstrate the potential use of the optimisation component for exploring ecological, economic, and policy objectives in the Aparima catchment. We considered the dominant land uses in the catchment (dairy, sheep and beef, forestry) and characterised their performance regarding N leaching, sediment loss, GHG emissions, milk-solids production, and wool production. We modelled hypothetical scenarios that explore the best possible outcome for the catchment with respect to those indicators without changing the land-use system. Our modelling results suggest very little headroom to improve the catchment’s performance without environmental and/or economic impacts. Incentive payments for nitrate leaching and/or sediment reduction have potential to be effective options to reduce environmental pollutants. However, our modelling results also highlighted the need for detailed land-use and land-use management information as well as spatially discriminate land-use performance assessments.

Interoperable Models for Land and Water Framework selection and preliminary design

Elliott, S., Callachan, S., Conland, N., Daughney, C., Eikaas, H., Eyers, D., Herzig, A., Jackson, B., Monge, J., Johnstone, P., Shamseldin, A., Sharp, J., Soliman, T., Turek, G., Vogler, I., Wakelin, S.
Prepared for Our Land and Water, 2017, NIWA report 2017239HN

This report presents a proposal for the development of an interoperable modelling system suitable for integrated spatial assessment the economic, production and environmental implications of land use and land use change, operating at farm to catchment scales. Stage 1, the subject of this report, establishes a plan for work to be undertaken in Stages 2 and 3. Stage 2 will take place from August 2017 to June 2019, and will focus on fully implementing and demonstrating the initial set of models and data within the framework, and will also prepare a plan for Stage 3.


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