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Compendium on methods and tools to evaluate impacts of, and vulnerability and adaptation to, climate change


The CENTURY version 5 agroecosystem model is the latest version of the soil organic model developed by Parton et al. (1987). This model simulates C, N, P, and S dynamics through an annual cycle over time scales of centuries and millennia. The producer submodel may be a grassland/crop, forest or savanna system, with the flexibility of specifying potential primary production curves representing the site-specific plant community.

CENTURY was especially developed to deal with a wide range of cropping system rotations and tillage practices for system analysis of the effects of management and global change on productivity and sustainability of agroecosystems. Note CENTURY is also described under agriculture.

Appropriate Use To study the impact of climate change on net primary production (crops, pastures, forests) as well as carbon and nutrient dynamics (including carbon sequestration), and to explore adaptive agricultural and natural resource management options (tillage, fertilizer, different species and sequences, etc.).
Scope Site-specific but has been used at watershed, drainage basin, and regional scales using GIS.
Key Output Changes in soil carbon and nutrient balances, as well as in crop, pasture and forest production, for different climate change scenarios.
Key Input Monthly average maximum and minimum air temperature; monthly precipitation; soil texture; plant nitrogen; phosphorus and sulfur content; lignin content of plant material; atmospheric and soil nitrogen inputs; initial soil carbon; nitrogen (phosphorus and sulfur optional).
Ease of Use For trained agronomists and ecologists. Requires advanced knowledge of soil and plant growth processes.
Training Required CENTURY basic training requires at least 1-2 weeks to acquire minimum skills to conduct simple simulations.
Training Available Training is offered at NREL, Colorado State University.
Computer Requirements PC-based stand alone version, Linux cluster for regional simulations.

Applications CENTURY has been used in the Loch Vale Watershed Project, a long-term research program designed to assess the effect of global climate change on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. Specifically, CENTURY was used to assess the abiotic and biotic controls on forest distribution and productivity as a basis for assessing potential vegetation change for projected climate scenarios.
Contacts for Framework, Documentation, Technical Assistance

Dr William Parton, Cindy Keough

NREL at Colorado State University, 1499 Campus Delivery Fort Collins, CO 80523-1499, USA; Tel: 970.491.1987; e-mail:

Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1499 USA; Tel: 970.491.2195; Fax: 970.491.1965; e-mail:

Cost Not identified

See for more references.
Hall, D.O., J.M.O. Scurlock, D.S. Ojima, and W.J. Parton. 2000. Grasslands and the global carbon cycle: Modelling the effects of climate change. In The Carbon Cycle. T.M.L. Wigley and D.S. Schimel (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 102-114.

Kelly, R.H., W.J. Parton, G.J. Crocker, P.R. Grace, J. Klír, M. Körschens, P.R. Poulton, and D.D. Richter. 1997. Simulating trends in soil organic carbon in long-term experiments using the Century model. Geoderma 1258.

Melillo, J.M., J. Borchers, J. Chaney, H. Fisher, S. Fox, A. Haxeltine, A. Janetos, D.W. Kicklighter, T.G.F. Kittel, A.D. McGuire, R. McKeown, R. Neilson, R. Nemani, D.S. Ojima, T. Painter, Y. Pan, W.J. Parton, L. Pierce, L. Pitelka, C. Prentice, B. Rizzo, N.A. Rosenbloom, S. Running, D.S. Schimel, S. Sitch, T. Smith, and I. Woodward. 1995. Vegetation/ecosystem modeling and analysis project: comparing biogeography and biogeochemistry models in a continental-scale study of terrestrial ecosystem responses to climate change and CO2 doubling. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9:407-437.

Ojima, D.S., W.J. Parton, D.S. Schimel, T.G.F. Kittel, and J.M.O. Scurlock. 1993. Modeling the effects of climatic and CO2 changes on grassland storage of soil C. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 70:643-657.

Parton, W.J., D.S. Schimel, C.V. Cole and D.S. Ojima. 1987. Analysis of factors controlling soil organic matter levels in Great Plains grasslands. Soil Science Society of America Journal 51:1173-1179.

Parton, W.J., D.S. Schimel, D.S. Ojima, and C.V. Cole. 1994. A general model for soil organic matter dynamics: sensitivity to litter chemistry, texture and management. Pages 147-167 in Bryant, R. B. and R.W. Arnold (eds.). Quantitative modeling of soil forming processes. SSSA Spec. Publ. 39. ASA, CSSA and SSA, Madison, WI, USA.