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Extreme Heat in the Southwest - June 19, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

At the time of publication (Jun 15, 2017), an extreme heatwave is forecast to hit the Southwest beginning later this week and extending into next week the week of June 19, peaking on/around June 19-20, 2017. Tucson is currently forecast to reach 114, while Phoenix may see temperatures reach 120 – both of which are approaching the record high temperatures for Tucson and Phoenix, respectively. Southwestern summers have a well-earned reputation for extreme temperatures, and compared to most of the country, even a ‘normal’ summer day is often much warmer than record high temperatures in more temperate locales.

It is important to note that the current forecast represent temperature extremes that can be dangerous or even deadly, as a result of direct exposure, or associated with the accumulated effects of heat stress, particularly when nighttime temperatures remain elevated and it is harder to cool off at night.

The Phoenix NWS office is piloting an experimental heat extremes tracker/map that highlights the risk potential associated with direct exposure and more sustained heat events. (Figs. 1a-ab).


Online Resources:

Southwest Climate Outlook May 2017 - Climate Summary

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Precipitation & Temperature: April precipitation was average to above average in New Mexico, while most of Arizona was below average, including much-below average and record-dry conditions in the southwestern corner of the state (Fig. 1a). April temperatures were above average in nearly all of Arizona and New Mexico, with much-above average temperatures in southern Arizona (Fig. 1b). May has been dry in southern Arizona and New Mexico, while parts of northern Arizona and northern and eastern New Mexico have picked up decent precipitation relative to the normally dry May climate (Fig. 2). May temperatures in Arizona and New Mexico have ranged from 4 degrees below to 4 degrees above normal, while temperatures in higher latitudes and upper elevations (e.g. Upper Colorado River Basin, California Sierras, etc.) have been generally warmer than average, ranging from 0 to 8 degrees above normal. Water year precipitation has been normal to above normal across most of Arizona and New Mexico aside from a small pocket of dry conditions along the Arizona-Mexico border (Fig. 3).

Snowpack & Water Supply: Snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) have declined in Arizona and New Mexico as well as in the Upper Colorado River Basin region of Utah and Colorado (Fig. 4). While areas of well-above-average snowpack and SWE remain, particularly in the Great Basin and the California Sierras, persistent warm temperatures are reducing once-impressive snowpack levels back to normal. This has resulted in some remarkable streamflow forecasts, as well as incremental improvements in reservoir storage volumes (see reservoir levels).

Drought: Much of the West has seen improvements in drought conditions, and only 5.2 percent of the contiguous United States is now designated as experiencing moderate drought (D1) or worse. The wetter-than-normal conditions that helped reduce drought conditions across much of the West (see Fig. 3) provided limited relief (if any) in southern Arizona and New Mexico, which have experienced a return of both short- and long-term drought designations (Fig. 5). These changes are due to both near-record- to record-warm temperatures in recent months and very little precipitation falling since mid-January.

Wildfire, Environmental Health, & Safety: The transition from spring into summer brings rising temperatures, little precipitation, and frequent high winds that create highly favorable conditions for fire ignition and spread. As noted last month, fire managers are increasingly vigilant during this transitional season. This year, fire conditions have been enhanced by the senescence of grasses that thrived under the moisture of last fall and warm temperatures this winter into spring, and have now left behind a pervasive blanket of fine fuels that exacerbate wildfire risks, especially during hot, dry, windy days. The Sawmill fire of 2017 perfectly encapsulates this cluster of conditions (see wildfire report). The warm and dry weather also produces dry and dusty conditions that prompt ongoing health and safety concerns such as dust exposure and traffic visibility.

El Niño Southern Oscillation: Current forecasts suggest ENSO-neutral conditions will continue through the spring and early summer, with approximately equal chances of an El Niño event or ENSO-neutral conditions during the second half of 2017.

Precipitation & Temperature Forecast: The May 18 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for June calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation for most of the Southwest, and increased chances of above-average temperatures across the region. The three-month outlook for June through August calls for equal chances of above- or below-average precipitation in Arizona and much of New Mexico with only the northeast corner of New Mexico expecting increased chances of above-average precipitation (Fig. 6, top). Increased chances of above-average temperatures are forecast for the entire southwestern region (Fig. 6, bottom).

Introducing the 2016 CLIMAS Climate and Society Graduate Fellows

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. The program is made possible by support from the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), the International Research Applications Program (IRAP), and the UA Office for Research and Discovery. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. While CLIMAS research generally occurs in the Southwest U.S., the Fellows program allows students to work anywhere in the world.

Fellows’ projects may follow two tracks. Students who want to conduct collaborative research may use their funding for use-inspired projects. Students who have conducted climate research and want to communicate their findings to audiences outside of academia may use their funding for outreach. Fellows may also use their funding for a combination of the two tracks.

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program helps students address the world’s climate-related problems by funding projects that engage people outside of the university.

The 2016 Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows are:

Saleh Ahmed

Developing a Community Hub for Climate Innovations in  Southwest Coastal Bangladesh

Abstract: Bangladesh ranks as one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change. A majority of local farmers and fishermen, whose livelihoods are dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, do not receive adequate climate information that can help improve their adaptation decision-making and increase community resilience. However, several evidence suggest that poor and marginalized farmers can improve their adaptation decision-making if they receive the appropriate demand-driven climate information in a timely manner. This motivates to develop a stakeholder-driven and user-inspired community hub for climate innovations in southwest coastal Bangladesh, where the livelihoods of majority of people are dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, and exposed to various adverse impacts caused by climate variability and change. This community hub should play instrumental role in creating opportunities for multi-way interactions and knowledge and information exchange by coproducing climate knowledge among various stakeholders concerning climate-related issues that are directly linked to local livelihoods. Ultimately, this community hub for climate innovations should play critical role promoting various social innovations in the region. The fundamental objective of this project, with the support from CLIMAS, is to develop a stakeholders-driven & use-inspired process of needs assessment that feeds into a development proposal, which can ultimately be scaled-up by national or international development partners for larger impacts across the regions. A small farming community in southwest coastal Bangladesh is the focus of this planned project.


Schuyler Chew

Collaborative Outreach and Climate Adaptation Planning with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Abstract: The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (PLPT) in Nevada is deeply connected physically, culturally and spiritually to Pyramid Lake and has made substantial gains to protect this ecosystem. Through collaborative efforts, our research team has been working with PLPT to understand how climate change might impact tribal water resources. We developed a mass-balance approximation tool to simulate Pyramid Lake elevation over time under various climate change scenarios and proposed ten adaptation recommendations that might enhance tribal adaptive capacity. I seek to build on this research endeavor by discussing with PLPT decision makers how to improve the mass-balance tool’s usefulness for water resource planning. I also plan to collaboratively engage with tribal stakeholders to develop a set of guiding principles that the tribe can use to evaluate climate adaptation strategies.


Stina Janssen

Solar Sovereignty: use-inspired collaborative research for affordable off-grid solar on the Navajo Nation

Abstract: The Navajo Nation is experiencing severe and worsening drought conditions exacerbated by climate change. As a CLIMAS Fellow, Stina Janssen will collaborate with Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) to coproduce research usable for the development of off-grid residential solar systems affordable to low income Navajo households. Stina's research will explore constraints and possibilities for finance and community-ownership or community-control structures applicable for BMWC's solar program. 


Sarah Kelly-Richards

Outreach for Small Hydropower Governance in Chile

Abstract: Globally, renewable energy production is promoted as a mitigation strategy for climate change. Supported by a Fulbright Scholarship in Chile, my dissertation research examines the challenges and potential of small hydropower (typically generating between 1 to 20 megawatts) as form of climate change mitigation. As a CLIMAS fellow, I will conduct outreach informed by research findings that is designed to connect local knowledge of small hydropower development with environmental policymaking. Ultimately, my project seeks to support social justice and environmental sustainability within the transition to renewable energy. 


Joy Liu

Dryland conservation in China: local incentives drive collaborative action on regional climate adaptation

Abstract: This project will assess the local incentives that drive collaborative efforts to conserve dryland systems on agricultural landscape in northern China by collaborating with a non-profit organization (NGO) called Green Action Charity Foundation. The Foundation collaborate with two other stakeholders: County-level officials, and village leaders in Shanxi province to develop tree-planting models, and achieve reforestation targets set by the national government. But NGO efforts face the challenge of integrating conservation, local development needs and regional climate adaptation strategies. Data from interviews and ethnographic study conducted during summer 2014 serve as basis to identify possible incentives and disincentives for collaboration among stakeholders. In summer and fall 2016, a comparative community-level climate adaptation profile and drivers for participation in conservation efforts will be documented and analyzed through stakeholder perspectives in two villages in Shanxi and Gansu province, China. These findings will be used by the Foundation and other stakeholders to develop an updated integrative collaborative model that may help us understand what drives dissonance between values and subsequent collaborative behavior in the context of dryland conservation in China. 

El Niño and Media Coverage in the Southwest

Friday, December 18, 2015

What do wildflowers, hantavirus, downhill skiing, locusts, and floods all have in common? The answer is El Niño in the Southwest. These subjects represent a small sample of media stories written during the last 33 years that connect regional impacts to the El Niño phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and help illustrate an evolution in our understanding of the significance of El Niño to the region. 

El Niño was documented as early as the 19th century by sailors who noticed that in some years, often around Christmas, a warm ocean current off the coast of Peru would bring changes to the regional marine ecosystem. But modern media coverage didn’t begin until the 1982–83 El Niño event. This event was particularly strong, and many scientists took note, enticed by the possibility of associating regional climate patterns with ENSO, as this development held the key to future climate forecasting. 

Upon reviewing all newspaper articles that reference El Niño impacts in the Southwest, three different phases of scientific coverage emerge. During the first phase, from the early 1980s through 1996, the science of ENSO was still fairly new and most stories discussed the general global, national, and sometimes regional impacts of El Niño. The second phase began during the strong 1997–98 El Niño event. The number of articles about El Niño in the region drastically increased at this time and referenced regional impacts as they were happening or a few months later. During the third phase, 1999–2014, journalists tried to use El Niño as a tool to predict future impacts that might occur in the Southwest. 

Phase #1 – Early ENSO Science and Impacts: The first phase was characterized by a handful of articles that were general in scope and discussed the dynamics of the ENSO cycle. For the Southwest, floods and above-average precipitation usually made the news. As this phase progressed, growing scientific evidence allowed for greater attribution of regional impacts in the region to El Niño, and the media slowly started to cover the story. The first news article was written in June 1983. It discussed regional flooding patterns across the U.S. and described the large snowpack on the verge of melting in the Southwest[1].  During this first phase, ENSO became a recognized phenomenon and the general idea that El Niño brought cooler, wetter weather to the region became fairly well established. However, many of the impacts attributed to El Niño were underdeveloped (e.g., killer bees migrating from Arizona to California[2] and the appearance of bubonic plague in New Mexico[3]) This was still early on in our understanding of the predictability of El Niño itself and many news articles grappled with how to cover long-range forecasting. 

Phase #2 – Attribution of El Niño Impacts in the Southwest: The second phase began during the very strong 1997–98 El Niño event. A substantial increase in media coverage occurred then, compared to prior events, with more than 100 news articles referencing impacts in the Southwest. By this point, researchers better understood the science of El Niño and its regional impacts. This meant increased attribution of weather and climate events to the ENSO cycle in the media, starting with coverage of Hurricane Nora, which “deposited two years’ worth of rain on the small town of Yuma”[4] in fall 1997. El Niño stories that winter discussed huge storms that dumped heaps of snow on ski slopes in Taos, New Mexico[5], but also buried sheep and cattle near Roswell[6], and brought heavy rain to Arizona in February and March[7]. This above-average precipitation promoted vegetation growth across the Southwest, translating into high pollen counts[8] and brightly blooming wildflower patches in Arizona[9]. The healthy desert vegetation also brought droves of locusts to western Arizona in the spring of 1998[10]  and boosted deer mice populations, which led to several occurrences of hantavirus in humans in the Four Corners region[11]. Media attention shifted in tone as the 1997–98 El Niño event progressed. Over time, a popular sentiment developed: “Oh, just blame it all on El Niño.”[12] Stories focused on the negative impacts of El Niño, and it often became a scapegoat for everything from the San Francisco Giants not getting enough practice time during spring training[13] to increases in food prices[14].

Phase #3 – The Media Race to Predict the Next El Niño: The strong 1997–98 El Niño generated a lot of scientific and media interest in predicting the next event. The third phase of media coverage was characterized by an effort to stay ahead of the curve and be the first to prepare the region for the impacts of another El Niño. This phase characterizes a time when scientists and journalists were still learning about the different flavors of each El Niño. Some were weak (2004–05) or moderate (2002–03), some quickly fizzled out (2006–07), and some were predicted but never actually started (2014). Each of these different events influenced regional weather patterns in distinct ways and climate information providers weren’t always able to clearly communicate the nuances to the media. Many news articles talked up the potential impacts of El Niño leading up to events (e.g., “Out and about: Dreaming of a white Christmas”[15]) only to carry disappointed headlines a few months later (e.g., El Niño rain turns out to be El Floppo”[16]).

It seems that we are currently beginning a new phase of El Niño media coverage with the 2015–16 event. Scientists have an improved understanding of the range of El Niño impacts and can better attribute certain weather events and occurrences to the ENSO cycle. In addition, this information has been translated into local news sources. While some national media outlets and climatologists have portrayed the 2015-16 El Niño as Godzilla[17], not one article referencing Arizona or New Mexico has characterized it as a monster. Perhaps that’s because El Niño means a lot of positive things for the region. Despite potential hazards, the desert could use some cooler, wetter weather, especially in contrast to the multi-year droughts that have characterized much of the 21st century thus far. But possibly it’s also because on a regional level, scientists and the media are better understanding and representing what El Niño means for the Southwest.


  1. “Summer floods seen as threat to much of nation.” The Washington Post. June 3, 1983.
  2. “Environment watch.” The Age. October 25, 1993.
  3. “And now for the weather: Two years from today there will be rain.” The Times. March 6, 1996.
  4. “International news: El Niño pours could water on LA routine.” The Guardian. September 27, 1997.
  5. “El Niño smiles on ski resort.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. December 14, 1997.
  6. “El Niño gets the blame for weirdness.” USA Today. January 8, 1998.
  7. “It moved like a conveyor belt, hit like a train.” The Ottawa Citizen. January 15, 1998.
  8. “El Niño triggers sneezing season, pollen gets kicked up early.” USA Today. February 23, 1998.
  9. “El Niño’s good side: Wildflowers.” The New York Times. March 30, 1998.
  10. “Earthweek: Diary of a Planet.” The Toronto Star. April 25, 1998.
  11. “Lethal virus borne by mice makes return in West.” The New York Times. June 25, 1998.
  12. “Oh, just blame it all on El Niño.” Calgary Herald. July 13, 1998.
  13. “Giants expect wealth, stadium raises Magowan’s hopes.” San Jose Mercury News. February 22, 1998.
  14. “El Niño boosts produce prices.” The Toronto Star. April 22, 1998.
  15. “Out and about: Dreaming of a white Christmas.” The Santa Fe New Mexican. November 30, 2006.
  16. “El Niño rain turns out to be El Floppo.” East Valley Tribune. February 23, 2007.
  17. “Latest forecast suggests ‘Godzilla El Niño’ may be coming to California.” Los Angeles Times. December 15, 2015.

Christina Greene - CLIMAS Climate & Society Fellow

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Christina Greene is a 2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow.  She and the other graduate fellows (E. Magrane, V. Rountree, & B. Thapa) will present the results of their fellowship work on Friday Nov 20, at 10:30 a.m., in ENR2, Room 604.


Almonds, Fish, and a Modern Dust Bowl: Narratives of Drought Vulnerability and Adaptation in California's San Joaquin Valley

The plums were a deep red, their oozing juices staining the human-sized cardboard box in wine colored hues. Instead of being stacked in neat pyramids or ensconced in plastic, they were piled in by the hundreds, pressing against each other, their bursting flesh perfuming the air. We stood in two single file lines. At the front of the line, volunteers grabbed plums by the handful and thrust them into our outstretched white plastic bags, counting them out “dos, cuatro, ocho, doce, veinte!” I asked the gentleman in front of me in the line “What are plums called in Spanish?” He smiles at me from beneath his cowboy hat, “Ciruela.”

After all the plums have been bagged, we begin the process again with pallets of tomatoes, frozen chickens, rice, beans, and cucumbers. When all the food is packed and sorted into piles, we distribute them to the residents of this small rural city in California’s San Joaquin Valley where everyone’s job depends on agriculture.  Throughout the day I ask people about California’s drought – la sequía. They nod gravely, yes – la sequía.

“We have less hours in the field this year.”

“The harvest season is shorter by a few weeks.”

“My water bill is very high. So much money!”

“There are fewer hours at the packing plant – I am thinking of moving and joining a cousin in Chicago.”

For my CLIMAS fellowship I am researching the impacts of the California drought on the rural agricultural communities of the San Joaquin Valley. As agriculture is the major source of livelihood in these communities, there is great concern that the drought is impacting farmworker jobs and their ability to put food on the table. In response to the drought, the State of California allocated $25 million in drought relief food boxes to be distributed in communities with high numbers of farmworkers. By volunteering at food aid distributions and speaking with farmworkers, farmers, labor contractors, city officials, social service providers, and state government officials I am researching drought vulnerability.

Droughts occur when there is not enough water to meet the demands of a society or an environment. As droughts are both a physical and a social event, it is important to understand the human dimensions of drought – who is most impacted by the drought and what environmental, economic, and social factors are shaping drought vulnerability? In climate research, there are many different ways to define vulnerability. The IPCC defines vulnerability as the “The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected” (IPCC, 2014).

To understand drought vulnerability in California, I am asking who is being impacted that is unable to cope and adapt to these impacts? How are they being impacted and how do factors such as the labor market, crop choices by farmers, social services, and migration shape drought vulnerability?

As debates in the media surge around how many gallons of water it takes to produce one almond or what percentage of water does agriculture consume, it is important to also examine the drought’s impacts on jobs and access to food and water for people living and working in the region that produces the majority of the country’s fruits and vegetables.


References:

  • IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, USA.

Preparing for High Consequence, Low Probability Events: Heat Water & Energy in the Southwest

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Residents of the Intermountain Southwest are accustomed to hot temperatures. More than 90 percent of households in Arizona use air conditioning, which accounts for a quarter of the energy consumed in homes: more than four times the national average (U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Now imagine a scenario: It’s June, temperatures are normally over 100 degrees F, but a persistent heat wave causes temperatures to soar over 120 degrees F for several days in a row, with nighttime low temperatures at or near 100°F. Everyone is using their A/C, which overloads the system and results in an extended power outage. Now, not only is it scorching, but without power residents have no way to cool off in their homes. What’s more, the lack of power knocks out the wastewater treatment plant, and now residents lack potable water as well.

You may be thinking that this scenario is highly unlikely, and you’re right. But what if? What if over three million people in the Phoenix metro area lost power during a desiccating pre-monsoon heat wave? Or, what if this situation occurred in Las Vegas, where, in addition to a million residents, there are tourists who are unaccustomed to the heat? How do we plan for something like this? How do we manage the cascade of impacts?

These are the types of questions and scenarios discussed at a workshop, entitled “Preparing for High Consequence, Low Probability Events: Heat, Water & Energy in the Southwest,” held in September in the University of Arizona’s new ENR2 building, in Tucson. The heat-related theme was apt, as temperatures outside topped 100°F. The workshop, funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, brought together over 30 practitioners in water, energy, and emergency management with researchers, in order to improve connections across these sectors, while increasing knowledge about intersecting risks and research and management needs related to the heat-water-energy nexus in the Southwest U.S.

Talks by prestigious scientists and practitioners set the stage for lively discussions and working sessions. Among the talks were two case studies of cascading impact events in the recent past:

  • Daryl Slusher (Austin Water Utility, Assistant Director) described how drought in Texas in 2011 and 2012 drastically reduced water levels in many reservoirs, including the sole water supply for the City of Austin, leading to unprecedented water restrictions and power outages in some areas; and
  • Ronald Lane, (San Diego County, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer) discussed a 2011 power outage in San Diego that led to a cascade of impacts, including airport and school closures, transportation disruptions—because the power outage rendered gas station fuel pumps inoperable, and a major sewage spill due to the shutdown of a water and sewage pumping.

Participants, some of whom have managed weather-related crises, generated useful insights into planning and managing rare, but impact-filled cascades of events. One key insight was the need for using “possibilistic” as opposed to “probabilistic” thinking to improve communication with local communities; knowing about what is likely to happen (probabilistic) is useful, but in practice it does not lead to the type of preparation needed for rare, but potentially debilitating events. Some key discussions focused on:

  1. What does it take for organizations to learn after disasters? Critical lessons learned during crises are often forgotten, unless institutional mechanisms are in place to capture them. It took a second severe drought in less than a decade for Colorado to set up institutions to tackle simultaneous intersecting impacts (e.g., low water supply and multiple fire outbreaks), through routine pre-crisis planning and preparedness for multiple impacts. In contrast, earthquake-prone Los Angeles successfully mobilized public funding to reduce risks from future quakes by learning from an earlier Mexico City earthquake.
  2. As long-term temperature and precipitation trends increase the likelihood of acute high-impact events, what changes in planning are required to develop effective interventions? There are clear lines of responsibility for acute events, such as severe storms or floods, but no single lead agency is in charge of the added risk from long-term trends. This is an important direction in which researchers and practitioners can work together to reduce societal risk, even as exposure to risk (e.g., heat waves, lower water supply reliability, etc.) increases.
  3. How can we best coordinate multiple levels of disaster planning and response, in anticipation of high-impact, low probability events? While state and national-level coordination is essential, citizen- and neighborhood-level monitoring, knowledge, and social networks play key roles – but too little is known about those networks, their intrinsic preparedness and adaptability. 'Possibilistic' thinking across all of these levels of decision making and coordination is needed to maximize preparedness, reduce risk, and reduce the costs associated with disasters.

Workshop organizers will produce a workshop report by the end of November. In the meantime, a workshop agenda and PDFs of presentations can be found here.

Mini-Podcast/News - Southwest Climate Update - May 1, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

We're introducing a new podcast series that focuses on quick and timely reporting on important climate news and information. We will emphasize stories that relate to the southwest, but we'll also include other climate related news that illustrate the impact of climate on national or global scales.  And Mike, Zack, and Ben will still take a deeper look at southwestern climate issues in the monthly CLIMAS Southwest Climate Podcast. This episode, we're focused on record warm temperatures, drought, and snowpack across the west, along with a few stories that illustrate the downstream impact of these conditions.


2014 Was a Record Warm Year - 2015 May Challenge This Record

Globally, 2014 was the warmest year on record.  This pattern was repeated in the southwest, where Arizona, California, and Nevada all had record warm average temperatures in 2014, while New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon were all in the top 5 of warmest years on record (Fig. 1). 

2015 is continuing this trend, where the January – March 2015 saw record warm average temperatures for 7 states, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon, while Montana, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico were all in the top 10 warmest on record(Fig. 2). 

Besides concerns about a gradually warming climate, these record warm temperatures, along with below average water-year precipitation across much of the west, have resulted in far below average snowpack levels (see below) which is cause for concern regarding drought and water storage looking into 2015.


State of the Drought

The current drought is ongoing and long term.  It is especially severe in California, but it is still affecting most of the west and portions of Midwest (Fig. 3). 

In Arizona the drought is leading AZ to think about Water Planning. Arizonan’s should not expect the same drastic steps that were taken in California in early April to preserve water.  Arizona and California don’t get water from the same supply, and much of California’s problems stem from the lack of snow in northern California, along with increasing demand from both agricultural and municipal users. 

Both states do get water from the Colorado River (Fig. 4), but as of yet, neither has seen mandatory reductions, although water managers are closely monitoring Lake Mead with projections it might drop to 1075’ within the next few years (Fig. 4 inset) – which would trigger mandatory reductions in some allocations. Arizona water leaders are concerned about the drought, but they have been planning for possible shortages for decades.


Bark Beetles are attacking trees that are stressed by climate change

Drought and warmer temps aren’t the only things that come with climate change.  These changes also alter the ecosystem dynamics as plants and animals respond to climate stressors. Bark Beetles are tiny winged beetles that have been attacking North American forests for a long time.  But lately these beetles have gone into overtime and are attacking trees that are stressed by climate change (Fig. 5). 

Trees that were “born” during mini-ice age in 1800s are stressed by warming trends and the beetles are exploiting the reduced defenses associated with this stress. They are sometimes felling as many as 100,000 trees a day.  Other genetic sub-populations that are more adapted to warmer temperatures are more resilient and the beetles don’t hit them as hard (or at all). Because of droughts and shorter winters, the trees are more stressed, and fewer beetles are killed off in winter freezes, and bark beetles have killed billions of trees in what will probably be the largest forest insect outbreak ever.  10 times the size of any past outbreak.

Some real estate agents have seen the prices of home plummet from “viewshed contamination” in areas destroyed by the bugs (Fig. 6).  As climate change continues to warm the forests in North America, these bugs are expected to continue to thrive.  This means more beetles in the future, preying on bigger chunks of forested areas across the county.


Snowpack in the West

Record low snowpack plus the drought have led to California enacting restrictions on water. A statewide snow survey found that the water content of California’s snowpack was only 5 percent of the April 1st average.  This is by far the lowest reading for that date. The previous record lowest snowpack for April 1st was 25 percent of average in records dating back to 1950.

This survey on the Sierra snowpack at the Phillips Station was performed on grass for the first time ever.  About 1/3 of California’s drinking water comes from the Sierra snowpack.  So on April 1st California Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory statewide water restrictions for the first time in state history.

One way to understand this snow deficit is to look at Tahoe City, California.  From October 1, 2014 through March 31st 2015 only 19.5 inches of snow had fallen.  That is 143.1 inches below average.  Almost 12 feet less of snow!  An airborne snow survey was conducted by NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory over the Tuolumne River Basin on March 25th and the snowpack water content is 34 billion gallons less than last spring.  California has had a wetter April but as is the case with the drought across the western united stats - to make a dent in a multiyear drought, it requires multiple years of above average precipitation.


Snowpack & Drought: Impact on Energy Systems

The California drought is also having an impact on energy. From an article by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these dry conditions are limiting hydropower generation and requiring generation from other sources to make up for this short fall. (Fig. )

20 percent of California’s generation came from hydropower during the first 6 months of each year from 2004 to 2013.  However, during the first half of 2014, only 10 percent of California’s generation came from hydropower. (Fig. )

California is turning to natural gas to make up for the loss in generation.  When a month’s hydropower generation dips under 10-year average levels, monthly natural gas generation often rises above its average. Wind and solar are also helping in the fight.  Wind generation surpassed hydro generation in California for the first time in February and March of 2014. (Fig. )


Climate Change & Pollen

Warmer temperatures, combined with a wet fall have resulted in a very heavy pollen season this year.  Pollen grains are used by plants for fertilization and reproduction. but for humans pollen isn’t so nice.  It can cause respiratory problems like hay fever and asthma.  These allergic triggers come from the pollen made by trees, weeds and grasses.  As temperatures rise and we experience changes in precipitation the growth and distribution of pollen is being affected worldwide.

 According to the National Climate Assessment and other recent publication, warmer air temperatures and more frost-free days have advanced the start time of pollen production.  This is leading to an earlier and longer pollen season.  Also because the levels of CO2 have increased, this has enhanced photosynthesis making pollen-producing plants bigger.  Bigger plants, more pollen, more allergies.  Warming temperatures have changed the spatial distribution of pollen. Ragweed, a rare type of pollen for the United Kingdom, was reported at record levels for the first time in the East Midlands in September of 2014. In 2001 7.3 percent of the U.S. suffered from asthma.  In 2010 the number rose to 8.4 percent.  The scientific community believes climate change could be contributing to this change. 


Image & Story Credits - Podcast & Blog Post


2014 and 2015 Record Temperatures


State of the Drought


Bark Beetles, Tree Stress, and Climate Change


Record Low Snowpack Across the West 


Snowpack, Drought, & Energy


Climate Change, Temperature & Precipitation Records, and Pollen

CLIMAS Colloquium: Connie Woodhouse - Collaborative Research in the Upper Colorado River Basin: User-Driven Research Results and Challenges

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This presentation will focus on ongoing work to better understand the effects of temperature on water supplies in the upper Colorado River basin. Overall, spring and early summer temperatures explain only a small portion of the variance in water year streamflow in the basin. However, in a subset of years (both warm and cool), temperatures appear to have a stronger influence on streamflow than might be anticipated, given the precipitation. The presentation will also touch on the challenges associated with incorporating the input of water resource management partners, a central component of the project design.


Connie Woodhouse's research concerns the climatology of western North America, including paleoclimatic reconstructions of past climate and hydrologic conditions from tree rings, the analysis of past and current climate, and circulation features that influence climate, particularly at decadal and longer time scales. Her work has ranged from the reconstruction and analysis of drought in the western Great Plain, to temperature variability over the past eight centuries in western North America, to the development of a network of streamflow reconstructions for major rivers in the Colorado, Platte, and Rio Grande river basins. A recent emphasis has been on applied research to assist water resource managers in using reconstructions of past hydroclimatic variability in drought planning and water resource management.


WEBINAR: We've arranged to share tomorrow's presentation through GoToMeeting
Registration URL: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3792343512959958017
Webinar ID: 149-958-747

Southwest Climate Outlook March 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Originally published Mar 19, 2015 in the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

Precipitation: In the past 30 days, precipitation was below average in much of southern Arizona, above average in portions of northern Arizona and southern New Mexico, and near normal across much of the rest of the region (Fig. 1). Precipitation totals for the water year (since Oct. 1) are below average across all of Arizona and most of New Mexico and are even worse in other western areas; California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Intermountain West are recording significantly below-average winter precipitation (Fig. 2).

Image Source - NOAA/NWS - Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

Image Source - NOAA/NWS - Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

Temperature: In the past 30 days, temperatures in nearly all of Arizona ranged from 0 to 6 degrees F above average. The western half of New Mexico was warmer than average, while the eastern half was cooler (Fig. 3). Regionally, winter 2014-2015 has seen a continuation of well above-average temperatures across much of the western U.S.

Image Source - High Plains Regional Climate Center

Snowpack & Water Supply: Snow water equivalent (SWE) is very low in most of Arizona (ranging from 2 to 74 percent of average) and much of New Mexico (ranging from 11 to 111 percent of average), although Califonia and the Pacific Northwest are at even lower levels (Fig. 4). Well above-average temperatures continue to have a significant effect on snowpack, pushing the snowline higher and driving early snowmelt runoff. In January, total reservoir storage was 45 percent in Arizona (compared to 46 percent last year) and 24 percent in New Mexico (compared to 23 percent last year) (see reservoir storage on page 4, for details). 

Image Source - Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS

Drought: Long-term drought conditions persist across the West, and the U.S. Drought Monitor continues to document long-term drought conditions across much of Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 5).  

Image Source - National Drought Mitigation Center

Plant Ecology & Human Health: Above-average temperatures and winter rains jumpstarted plant activity across the region, and the Southwest is experiencing a banner year for wildflowers. This beauty comes at a cost; pollen levels are high enough to affect most allergy sufferers and are expected to remain that way through the spring.

El Niño: El Niño finally arrived, and will likely remain a weak event this spring and into summer. Forecasts suggest El Niño could escalate to a moderate to strong event in 2015-2016 (see ENSO Tracker on page 3).

Precipitation & Temperature Forecasts: The Mar. 19 NOAA-Climate Prediction Center seasonal outlook continues to predict above-average precipitation this spring for most of the Southwest. Temperature forecasts remain split across the region, with elevated chances for above-average temperatures along the West Coast and eastward into Arizona (and the western U.S.) and increased chances for below-average temperatures across Texas and into New Mexico (Fig. 6).

Image Source - NOAA-Climate Prediction Center

Streamflow Forecasts: The Mar. 1 forecast for the Colorado, Rio Grande, and Arkansas river basins projects well below-average streamflow for most of Arizona and New Mexico, with the exception of north-central New Mexico and a few isolated locations in Arizona (Fig. 7).

Image Source - Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS

2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellows

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team (Climate Assessment for the Southwest) for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. While CLIMAS research generally occurs in the Southwest U.S., the Fellows program allows students to work anywhere in the world.

Fellows’ projects may follow two tracks. Students who want to conduct collaborative research may use their funding for use-inspired projects. Students who have conducted climate research and want to communicate their findings to audiences outside of academia may use their funding for outreach. Fellows may also use their funding for a combination of the two tracks.

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program helps students address the world’s climate-related problems by funding projects that engage people outside of the university.

The 2015 Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows are:


Christina Greene

Abstract: A history of prolonged droughts has long challenged the food system in the Southwest, and these challenges will become steeper under a future of climate change. This project seeks to better understand the vulnerability of the food system to drought by focusing on the impacts of the California drought on farmworkers. By identifying the needs of farmworkers during drought and evaluating the distribution of drought relief boxes through community food banks, this research seeks to connect the environmental and social dimensions of drought, labor, and food insecurity.


Eric Magrane

Abstract: As a CLIMAS fellow, Eric Magrane will design and teach a community course for the University of Arizona Poetry Center called “Climate Change and Poetry.” Climate change is both a scientific and a social issue. It is a threat to life on Earth as we know it as well as an opportunity for social change and environmental justice. A growing body of poetry addresses climate change, and this course will use poems as boundary objects to both communicate climate change and to examine its different frames or narratives. It will explore what role the imaginative and emotional resonances of poetry might have in the way we think about adaptation and mitigation. 


Valerie Rountree

Abstract: In March 2015, the City of Tucson Office of the Mayor will hold a half-day summit on Energy and the Economy with policy makers and business owners in Tucson to discuss the economic opportunities associated with increasing energy and the use of renewable energy. The purpose of Valerie’s CLIMAS project is to enhance the summit and evaluate its success in engaging participants and initiating action on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the private sector.  The project will include three parts: first, a pre-summit survey of prospective attendees will be administered to get baseline data regarding participants’ opinions and knowledge of energy efficiency.  The results of the survey will also be used to tailor the content of the summit to participants’ interests.  Second, a post-summit survey of attendees will be administered to evaluate the impacts of the summit on attendee opinions, knowledge and perceptions.  And third, follow-up interviews will complement surveys to evaluate whether participants plan to implement energy efficiency measures.  The results of this project will be used by partners in the Mayor’s Office to enhance the 2015 Summit and improve summits in future years.


Bhuwan Thapa

Abstract: Nepal’s water resources and agriculture sectors are one of hard hit sectors by climate variability and change. There are about 25,000 irrigation Systems which are managed by farmers and which irrigate about 25 percent of total irrigated area in Nepal. Though Farmer-managed irrigation system (FMIS) is considered a robust system, it is facing increasing stresses from climatic and non-climatic elements including competing water demands, frequent infrastructure damage from flooding and landslides, degraded water quality, and poor governance. My study will conduct use-inspired research on adaptation strategies of FMIS in order to strengthen their management capacity. As a part of the project, I will conduct i) participatory assessment of biophysical and social vulnerabilities of the FMIS to climatic stresses; and ii) support the irrigation managers with development of appropriate adaptation strategies.

Chris Guiterman - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Thursday, March 12, 2015

From the very beginning, Chris Guiterman just wanted an opportunity to expand his collaboration with the Navajo Forestry Department, and to demonstrate what he could do to help them. 

Guiterman is a 2014 recipient of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Arizona, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, working in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

He used the CLIMAS fellowship to jumpstart a project that he had been struggling to fund.

Tribal nations across the Southwest are increasingly at risk of climate change impacts on the landscape, and because many of these nations rely on the ecosystem services of healthy forests, the risks are intensified. 

“Tasked with managing over 5 million acres of forests and woodlands, the Navajo Forestry Department has identified the need to assess sensitivities of their forests to drought and climate change,” according to the abstract of Guiterman’s research project. Guiterman worked with the NFD foresters to address their needs by quantifying the climatic drivers of forest growth in the Chuska Mountains.

Previously, Guiterman worked with the NFD on another project for a couple of years, and he and his NFD collaborators had a series of discussions about what the next steps could be. Guiterman basically told the NFD, “you can see what I can do…what do you need? And what can I do for you?”

Guiterman said the project spawned from that initial conversation, and the NFD essentially asked him the research questions. 

They wanted to know how vulnerable their forests are to climate change, what the long-term productivity of their forests would look like, and the overall age of the forests.

“I was really excited to be able to contribute and to be able to give them some knowledge that they want, and that I actually have the skills and capacity to do,” Guiterman said. “I understand what it is like to be a forest manager from my background, so I know how valuable this information is.” 

This was a win-win for both the NFD and Guiterman.  He found the research compelling because it was at the core of what he does as a scientist, and it was also directly beneficial to a group who needed this information and analysis, and who had plans to use it.  

When Guiterman approached CLIMAS with this study, he knew that his ambitions were bigger than the five thousand dollar budget CLIMAS allowed.  But he didn’t care. 

“I told the Navajo foresters I could do something when they asked me a question,” Guiterman said. “I told them I could help answer it and I just wanted a start to show them that we could go in the woods, we could all core trees, I could bring back data and show them x,y and z to help answer their questions.”

Throughout this project, Guiterman learned a lot about what it means to work on a Native American reservation.  Because the tribal government functions differently than he is used to, he had to learn as he went along.  “I think I jumped a few hurdles before I ever knew they existed and then I backed up,” Guiterman said.  “They were willing to work with me, be patient and understanding.”

Although learning the rules and regulations was difficult at first for Guiterman, it was also very rewarding. “Trust and credibility in a relationship are paramount to doing the kind of work that I want to keep doing and what this project emphasizes,” said Guiterman.

Guiterman worked in the field with two men from the NFD, who had been there for at least 20 years, and they helped core most of the trees. The fieldwork was complete in June of 2014.  They visited 7 plots, cored 111 trees and took 222 cores back to the lab. 

“I learned a lot just by being around them in the woods, asking what they saw and what they thought,” Guiterman said.

One thing Guiterman wasn’t expecting was how much they taught him about navigating the road network in the area.  “There are roads everywhere and there are few markers, some of them aren’t even on the map,” Guiterman said.  “Local knowledge is so key when you are in the forest landscape.”

This project took the men out to plots in the middle of the forest, so Guiterman usually gave the Navajo foresters the plot locations and he would follow behind so he wouldn’t get lost. 

“We would be driving along and we would just turn off the road into what to me looked like a meadow and drive on up,” Gutierman said.  “A couple of times they would disappear and I would have no idea where they were going because I didn’t see the road there.”

As Guiterman followed, a road would appear. Somehow, the foresters knew it would be there.

Guiterman was able to begin his research with the CLIMAS fellowship, and has subsequently received a fellowship from The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Star) and a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  With this extra funding, Guiterman has been able to make this project part of his dissertation, which he intends to finish in August of 2016. 

Guiterman is also excited to finally be a part of CLIMAS.  He has always admired their work and with this fellowship, not only did he get to do this project, but he also joined a community of people that he wants to work with.

 

Rebecca Lybrand - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

To Rebecca Lybrand, calling soil “dirt” is simplistic and diminishes its importance to plants, animals, and human beings.  So why is soil, the foundation of life, constantly being referred to as “dirt?”  Rebecca began this line of thinking in college, and this spark of curiosity turned a simple question into a career. 

Rebecca is now a soil scientist at The University of Arizona.  She received her Ph.D. from The University of Arizona’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (SWES) in 2014. She is also a recipient of the 2014 Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellowship. 

Rebecca’s CLIMAS project centered on creating two short films that documented her research across the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. These films showcase four of her field sites, which span over 4000 feet of elevation gain. The sites differ in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation, all of which have remarkable impacts on the characteristics of these soils. 

The visuals for both films are the same, but the scripts change to present the science message in two different contexts. One uses a lively, first person perspective that relays a scientific story, using Rebecca’s personal experience to frame the film.  The other is in third person, and presents a formal video delivering a more scientific message along the lines of what you might see in a science documentary. The main objective of this project is to survey students and to evaluate the effectiveness of formal and informal communication techniques.

Rebecca had been interested in doing this project for quite some time.  The year before she was a CLIMAS C&S graduate fellow, she was part of the Carson Scholars program, where she learned more about how to communicate science effectively. As a Carson Scholars Fellow, Rebecca saw the potential for making a soils video and even connected with Dr. Jay Hmielowski, an assistant professor specializing in Environmental Communication, who was willing to collaborate on the project. However, at the time, Rebecca was a graduate student and did not have a lot of free time or extra funding available to make the video happen.

In the back of Rebecca’s mind she knew that she wanted to make this video. She went out in the field to shoot footage and she even began to make connections with a local media and communications expert, all before learning about the CLIMAS fellowship. 

“Seeing the CLIMAS announcement and completing the proposal process is what solidified it,” said Rebecca.  “The CLIMAS fellowship made this outreach project happen.”

Rebecca didn’t have much experience with shooting footage or editing video prior to working on this project. Her inspiration actually came from mountain biking. Both she and her fiancé mountain bike, and enjoy using a GoPro camera to film their adventures on the trails. Moreover, they are avid fans of attention-grabbing, professionally produced mountain biking documentaries.

 “I always thought that the videos were really engaging and even people who don’t mountain bike enjoy watching them,” said Rebecca.  “I kept thinking, this is the way to present science, in a fun and interactive way.”

Because Rebecca had little experience with making a film, she reached out to Shipherd Reed, the Marketing and Communications Manager at the UA Flandrau Science Center. Shipherd helped Rebecca along the way with things such as how to capture footage and how to navigate Final Cut Pro.  Rebecca says he was very willing to help and extremely patient. 

Because Rebecca had never edited video before, her main challenge was that everything took much longer than she anticipated.  She had captured hours of video and then watched every second of it, taking notes along the way. 

“In my proposal I put together my nicely framed timeline, which was completely unrealistic,” said Rebecca.  “Every step took hours, days or even months longer than I had planned on, but it was worth it.”

Difficulties aside, Rebecca made great memories putting this film together.  On the longest day of shooting, Rebecca and her fiancé were on the road to a field site before the sun rose and were hiking back from another field site as the sun went down.

“We reflect back on that day and laugh. I know that we were both exhausted by the time we got home, but it was a really fun and exciting day,” said Rebecca.  “We also saw a Gila monster, so that was an added reward because I love reptiles.”

Now that both videos are complete, Rebecca has teamed up with her collaborator, Dr. Hmielowski, to write and carry out student pre-tests and surveys to test the effectiveness of the contrasting narrative strategies.  Rebecca hopes to present the study at a science communication conference with the ultimate goal of publishing her findings to reach a larger audience. 

Rebecca is now working on her Postdoc with Dr. Rachel Gallery’s soil microbial ecology research group. She is looking at how soils and topography are impacting soil microbes across pine beetle- and fire-disturbed environments in Colorado. Rebecca intends to continue working as a soil scientist and plans to maintain her science outreach work in the community. She knows that having this readily available video and the skills required to produce more videos will help her in the future. 

“Everyone is always interested in the different types of outreach work that you do and in knowing that you are able to communicate to interdisciplinary teams of scientists and the public,” said Rebecca.  “Having this real concrete visual representation of my research is a great product.”

Ling-Yee Huang - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When Ling-Yee Huang received the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellowship a year ago, she proposed to create a climate science curriculum for law schools.  Little did she know, she would actually be teaching her own class on climate science curriculum for lawyers, at the James A. College of Law at The University of Arizona.

Huang is currently a M.S. student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE) at the University of Arizona, as well as a researcher at the Water Resources Research Center (WRRC).  Previously, she earned a J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rice University.

Before coming to UA, Huang worked as a policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform in Washington, D.C.  She provided legal analysis regarding the Clean Water Act and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, and she developed legal frameworks for climate change adaptation and protecting ecosystem services.

“I have always really liked the idea of combining science and decision making,” said Huang.  “I started grad school having worked in the decision and policy making field for a couple of years and in that experience I felt that there was a real lack of understanding of science.”

Huang said when she learned about the CLIMAS fellowship, she realized it captured her dual interests in both science and policy perfectly. The curriculum and her final project were ideas she had been contemplating for a long time. 

“I found it the perfect fit,” said Huang. 

Huang’s CLIMAS Fellows project is Achieving Scientific Literacy in the Classroom: A Climate Science and Law Curriculum

Huang said she realizes there was a lot of interest in doing science literacy education in the legal field, but there weren’t many examples of exactly what she was trying to do.  For example, there are classes on climate change law, where students spend a few short lectures going over climate processes, but the focus is on the legal aspect of things, which makes sense in a law school.

Huang’s curriculum is different in that it orients students into thinking a certain way and towards being able to ask informed questions.

“I am not expecting them to be scientists but at least they are able to think critically about data that they are presented,” said Huang.

When Huang began, she had an ambitious curriculum. “I wanted to talk about air quality and water quality and climate process and how science works,” said Huang. “I had all of these topics that I wanted to cover in 8 weeks but when I presented it to one of the law professors who was helping me, she told me I really needed to scale back my ambitions.” 

The professor told her it was enough to just try to teach people about graphs.

With Huang’s final curriculum, students will learn how and where science and law interact, they will understand the basic scientific process, they will develop basic scientific literacy skills, they will apply the skills in a legal context, and they will learn the basics of climate science law. And she will do this all in 8 weeks!

“Trying to understand what I wanted to teach and what could realistically be taught in the constraints of the semester that was given to me was hard,” said Huang.  “I feel like there is so much information that could be useful for law students to know, but then being realistic about what was the most important was probably the most challenging for me.”

Difficulties aside, Huang created a curriculum that not only can be applied to law schools around the country but will definitely be in use in at the James A. College of Law.  Huang will be teaching Integrating Science and the Law in Practice (LAW698O), beginning March 3, 2015. 

Huang entered grad school with the idea that she wanted to have one foot each in the science and policy worlds. She wanted to figure out how to bridge communication gaps so that policies, however they turned out, are better informed by scientific research.

Huang said she wouldn’t have come up with this curriculum or put the work into it without this fellowship.

“I think UA is really fortunate to have an organization that is interested in funding this kind of policy, science type of work,” said Huang, referring to CLIMAS.  “Very often in academia, we get into our one discipline and we go, go, and go without looking across the horizon to see what is out there.”

Sarah Truebe - 2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sarah Truebe has always been a caver.  She grew up thinking the only things people should take from caves are photographs, but as she began her career as a paleoclimate scientist, she realized that scientists often take a lot more than photographs.

A stalagmite is a cylindrical mineral deposit, formed over hundreds or thousands of years on the floor of a cave, making them utterly non-renewable on human timescales.  Stalagmites contain valuable paleoclimate data; however, most of the time getting this information means permanently removing the stalagmite from the cave. 

“As the popularity of stalagmite paleoclimate science grows, development of sustainable sampling methods for these nonrenewable resources is necessary to balance the needs of science and cave conservation,” Truebe said. 

Truebe is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona and is also a 2014 recipient of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program. She used this opportunity to collect information on different stalagmite sampling methods, with the intention of developing best practice recommendations for extraction. 

Truebe said the fellowship was very timely.  “Over the last 3 years of my PhD I have been thinking more and more that I want to be doing is science that is not only directly relevant to stakeholders, but is actually something that is engaged with stakeholders,” Truebe said.

She surveyed scientists on the different methods they currently or ideally want to use to extract climate information from the stalagmites. She asked stakeholders about which of the methods make the most sense to use, given the many other uses for caves, including tourism, education, recreation, habitat for many organisms, and so forth.

There were a few popular methods mentioned by scientists

  • The stalagmites can be cored, which leaves the majority of the structure intact; 
  • Broken or vandalized stalagmites can be permanently removed and analyzed;
  • Intact stalagmites can be temporarily removed and analyzed, and then repaired and replaced, or they can also be permanently removed and archived after climate information has been extracted.

While there are a few more techniques, these are the most popular methods. 

 “I had already done all of the scientist surveys before I heard about the fellowship and so I said this is a really cool project and there is a lot of potentially interesting information here, so how can we really do a great job on the stakeholder side of things too?” Truebe said.  “That was my intention in applying for the fellowship.”

The first survey covered which methods were being used or favored by these scientists. Truebe contacted 70 paleoclimate labs and received 45 responses to the survey, from 19 different countries.

The results showed that all of these scientists were removing the stalagmites from the cave permanently for sampling.  While less than 25 percent were using other techniques, the main method was permanent removal. 

From this study, Truebe found that one third of the scientists were not using their ideal or preferred method.  She also found they had awareness of the need or importance of conservation, but that there is not time, incentive or funding to do anything differently. 

A second survey was targeted at stakeholders, a group that included cave managers, state and federal agencies and recreational cavers.  There were 110 competed surveys with this group and while surveys were submitted from eight different counties, most came from the U.S.

These results for this survey were quite different compared to the scientist’s survey.  Permanent removal was a much less favored technique, while less-destructive coring was preferred. However, Sarah mentioned that coring isn’t always possible, depending on the geometry of the stalagmite.

After completing the surveys, Sarah built a framework that will give managers and scientists a place to start when wanting to sample in a more conservation-friendly way.  Along with this framework, Truebe will be writing a journal article for The National Speleogical Society and for the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies.

While Truebe thinks that these outputs are necessary, she felt she needed something else to really get the conversation about new sampling techniques started.  So she is also planning on holding two workshops, one on archiving that will primarily reach scientists and the other on developing new methods that will engage with interested stakeholders. 

Truebe said she was a bit concerned going into the project.  “Removing stalagmites is a very destructive process,” Truebe said. “So I was a bit nervous to send this survey out to the world wide caving community and say, “hey, there is this issue that you may or may not be aware of, what do you think about it?’”

 She was also worried to send it to scientists, who might not want a spotlight put on their sampling methods, because many know that sampling is already at odds to cave conservation.

But she was pleasantly surprised that people weren’t defensive or resistant to having a discussion, and most were receptive to the idea of shifting to a more conservation-oriented perspective, and were interested in how to do sampling better.  They were eager to find a compromise between what the scientists want and need to do for a robust analysis and what is good for the cave, long-term. 

Truebe is excited to see how this affects the future of caving and cave paleoclimate science.

“Now we can actually engage with the uncomfortable feelings that I have been having about this type of work and that other scientists expressed to me in the survey,” Truebe said.  “It is okay because we can study this and we can move forward.” 

Truebe said the fellowship made this idea that she had been thinking about for a while, more real. 

“I think that it has helped a lot, mainly because it has given much more credibility to the project, which until I received the fellowship was really just a thought experiment, or something like that,” said Truebe.  “Because the project is credible as is, but it was nice to be able to say ‘hey, I’m not the only one who thinks so.’”

2014 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellows

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team (Climate Assessment for the Southwest) for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. While CLIMAS research generally occurs in the Southwest U.S., the Fellows program allows students to work anywhere in the world.

Fellows’ projects may follow two tracks. Students who want to conduct collaborative research may use their funding for use-inspired projects. Students who have conducted climate research and want to communicate their findings to audiences outside of academia may use their funding for outreach. Fellows may also use their funding for a combination of the two tracks.

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program helps students address the world’s climate-related problems by funding projects that engage people outside of the university.

This week we'll be publishing profiles of each of the 2014 Fellows:

Climate Summary - Southwest Climate Outlook February 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Originally published in the Feb 2015 Southwest Climate Outlook

Precipitation: The borderlands region of southern Arizona and portions of southern, central, and northeastern New Mexico all recorded above-average precipitation, but most of Arizona and New Mexico received average or below-average precipitation in the past 30 days despite a number of January storms (Fig. 1).

Images Source - NOAA/NWS - Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service

Temperature: After a record year for Arizona (and a top five year for New Mexico), temperatures remained well above average in the Southwest over the past 30 days (Fig. 2). This means pleasant weather compared to the frigid and snowy conditions in the eastern and central U.S. but has implications for drought, water storage, phenology, and human health.

Images Source - High Plains Regional Climate Center

Snowpack: Snow water equivalent (SWE) is low across Arizona, ranging from 1 to 62 percent of average. New Mexico is also quite low, ranging from 32 to 85 percent of average (Fig. 3). Well above-average temperatures are a significant factor, as many precipitation events fell primarily as rain, with the snowline as high as 8,000 feet in some cases.

Images Source - Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS

Water Supply: In January, total reservoir storage was 45 percent in Arizona (compared to 46 percent last year) and 23 percent in New Mexico (same as last year) (see reservoir storage on page 5, for details). Unseasonably warm temperatures mean more precipitation falling as rain and an early start to snowmelt runoff. This may increase reservoir storage in the short term, but losses to evaporation/sublimation may counter these gains in the long term. 

Drought: The 2014 monsoon, along with an active eastern Pacific tropical storm season, provided temporary relief to regional drought but did little to change long-term conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) expanded the drought designations in Arizona and New Mexico following variable and generally below-average precipitation (Fig. 4). 

Images Source - National Drought Mitigation Center

Plant Ecology & Human Health: Above-average temperatures and winter rains jumpstarted plant activity across the region. Plant enthusiasts are anticipating a banner year for wildflowers, but this comes at a cost. Pollen counts are already at levels that affect most allergy sufferers, a pattern almost certain to extend through the spring. 

ENSO: The NOAA-Climate Prediction Center maintained a 50–60% probability of an El Niño event this winter and into early spring.  Declines in sea surface temperatures, especially in the Niño 1-2 region, were partially offset by increased atmospheric activity.  Consensus is on a borderline weak event extending into early spring, with the potential for a resurgence of El Niño conditions later in 2015 (see ENSO tracker on page 3, for more details).

Precipitation & Temperature Forecasts: The Feb. 19 NOAA-Climate Prediction Center seasonal outlook continues to predict above-average precipitation through the winter and into spring for most of the Southwest (Fig. 5). It remains to be seen how much this forecast depends on El Niño conditions, which are currently trending weak to neutral. Temperature forecasts remain split across the region, with elevated chances for above-average temperatures along the West Coast and into Arizona and increased chances for below-average temperatures along the Gulf Coast into New Mexico (Fig. 6).

Images Source - NOAA-Climate Prediction Center

2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellows

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team (Climate Assessment for the Southwest) for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. While CLIMAS research generally occurs in the Southwest U.S., the Fellows program allows students to work anywhere in the world.

Fellows’ projects may follow two tracks. Students who want to conduct collaborative research may use their funding for use-inspired projects. Students who have conducted climate research and want to communicate their findings to audiences outside of academia may use their funding for outreach. Fellows may also use their funding for a combination of the two tracks.

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program helps students address the world’s climate-related problems by funding projects that engage people outside of the university.

The 2015 Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Climate & Society Graduate Fellows are:


Christina Greene

Abstract: A history of prolonged droughts has long challenged the food system in the Southwest, and these challenges will become steeper under a future of climate change. This project seeks to better understand the vulnerability of the food system to drought by focusing on the impacts of the California drought on farmworkers. By identifying the needs of farmworkers during drought and evaluating the distribution of drought relief boxes through community food banks, this research seeks to connect the environmental and social dimensions of drought, labor, and food insecurity.


Eric Magrane

Abstract: As a CLIMAS fellow, Eric Magrane will design and teach a community course for the University of Arizona Poetry Center called “Climate Change and Poetry.” Climate change is both a scientific and a social issue. It is a threat to life on Earth as we know it as well as an opportunity for social change and environmental justice. A growing body of poetry addresses climate change, and this course will use poems as boundary objects to both communicate climate change and to examine its different frames or narratives. It will explore what role the imaginative and emotional resonances of poetry might have in the way we think about adaptation and mitigation. 


Valerie Rountree

Abstract: In March 2015, the City of Tucson Office of the Mayor will hold a half-day summit on Energy and the Economy with policy makers and business owners in Tucson to discuss the economic opportunities associated with increasing energy and the use of renewable energy. The purpose of Valerie’s CLIMAS project is to enhance the summit and evaluate its success in engaging participants and initiating action on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the private sector.  The project will include three parts: first, a pre-summit survey of prospective attendees will be administered to get baseline data regarding participants’ opinions and knowledge of energy efficiency.  The results of the survey will also be used to tailor the content of the summit to participants’ interests.  Second, a post-summit survey of attendees will be administered to evaluate the impacts of the summit on attendee opinions, knowledge and perceptions.  And third, follow-up interviews will complement surveys to evaluate whether participants plan to implement energy efficiency measures.  The results of this project will be used by partners in the Mayor’s Office to enhance the 2015 Summit and improve summits in future years.


Bhuwan Thapa

Abstract: Nepal’s water resources and agriculture sectors are one of hard hit sectors by climate variability and change. There are about 25,000 irrigation Systems which are managed by farmers and which irrigate about 25 percent of total irrigated area in Nepal. Though Farmer-managed irrigation system (FMIS) is considered a robust system, it is facing increasing stresses from climatic and non-climatic elements including competing water demands, frequent infrastructure damage from flooding and landslides, degraded water quality, and poor governance. My study will conduct use-inspired research on adaptation strategies of FMIS in order to strengthen their management capacity. As a part of the project, I will conduct i) participatory assessment of biophysical and social vulnerabilities of the FMIS to climatic stresses; and ii) support the irrigation managers with development of appropriate adaptation strategies.

Southwest Climate Outlook January 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In the Jan 2015 Southwest Climate Outlook, we look back at 2014, including record temperatures for the Southwest, the recent trends in precipitation and drought, and forward into 2015 as we continue to wait for El Niño to give us a definitive answer.


Climate Summary/Forecasts

Precipitation: After an exceptionally dry November, a number of storms pushed into the Southwest in December and early January, but overall precipitation totals were highly variable across Arizona and New Mexico (Fig. 1). 

Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center - HPRCC

Temperature: December continued the yearlong trend of above-average temperatures, with Arizona logging the warmest year on record in 2014 (as did California and Nevada), and New Mexico at near-record levels (Fig. 2). The extended warm temperatures were in part attributable to well above-average humidity that extended long after the monsoon ended.  In particular, this kept nighttime lows above average, and we did not experience the typical pattern of cooling off and drying out in early fall.

Source: NOAA-National Climatic Data Center

Snowpack: While still relatively early in the season, snow water equivalent (SWE) remains low across Arizona and New Mexico, ranging from 0 to 70 percent of average in Arizona and 50 to 90 percent of average for most of New Mexico.  SWE in the upper elevations that feed into Arizona and New Mexico are faring a little better, with most of the basins reporting more than 70 percent of average and many reporting between 90 and 110 percent of average (Fig. 3).

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS

Water Supply: In December, total reservoir storage was 45 percent in Arizona (compared to 47 percent last year) and 23 percent in New Mexico (compared to 22 percent last year) (see reservoir storage, for details).

Drought: Continued consistent and repeated precipitation events, especially with El Niño-led above-average precipitation throughout the winter and spring, would push us in the right direction regarding long-term drought conditions. Alleviating the drought will take time however; widespread areas of the Southwest received well below-average precipitation over the past 12 to 36 months, with the Four Corners region, northeast New Mexico, and portions of southern Arizona experiencing the largest deficits in the past 12 months (Fig. 4).

Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center - HPRCC

ENSO: The most recent NOAA-Climate Prediction Center forecast scaled back its forecast for El Niño this year, albeit only slightly.  Ongoing lack of atmospheric cooperation continues to sow confusion, despite generally above-average temperature anomalies in the Niño 3.4 region (see El Niño tracker, for details).

Precipitation Forecasts: The Jan. 15 NOAA-Climate Prediction Center seasonal outlook continues to predict above-average precipitation through the winter and into early spring for the southwest. This forecast is likely linked to El Niño-favorable conditions, but the extent of their impact remains to be seen (Fig. 5).

Temperature Forecasts: The Jan. 15 NOAA-Climate Prediction Center temperature forecasts remain split across the region, with elevated chances for above-average temperatures along the West Coast and eastward into Arizona and increased chances for below-average temperatures along the Gulf Coast into New Mexico. This pattern is projected through the winter and into the spring (Fig. 6).

Source: NOAA-Climate Prediction Center

Upcoming: CLIMAS Climate & Society Fellows Event - Nov 14, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

After a year of research, The Climate Assessment for the Southwest’s first Climate and Society Fellows will present the results of their work on Friday, November 14, from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., in room 531 of the Marshall Building.

The Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program supports currently enrolled University of Arizona graduate students.  The fellows are given $5,000 and a year to work on a specific project of their choice.  While their work must be focused around climate research and decision making, they can come from any degree-granting program. 

This program began with the need for an engaged subset of students interested in use inspired science.

“We have been trying for about 5 years to build a cohort or group of students who are interested in climate and society interactions, as well as learning about the way CLIMAS operates in between academia and stakeholders,” said Gigi Owen, an assistant staff scientist for CLIMAS.  ”There is a growing body of literature and group of people doing engaged climate research and we wanted to have a hand in training students in this type of work.”

The Principle Investigators of CLIMAS have had graduate students helping with their own projects for several years. “That is like the bread and butter of CLIMAS,” said Owen.  However, that position is more like a job and sometimes students are not fully engrossed by the research. 

While graduate students still work with CLIMAS researchers, “we thought if students were paid to conduct their own research, rather than someone else’s, they would be more excited,” said Owen.

The fellowship also gives the students more freedom.  While most of the CLIMAS projects take place in Arizona and New Mexico, the fellowship is open to conducting research anywhere in the world. 

“It is expanding our geographical scope,” said Owen “It is helping build that literature about engaged climate and society research, even though the research may be outside of CLIMAS’ geographical sphere.”

CLIMAS wants its fellows to start learning skills to communicate and work with others outside of academia.  “It is one of the few fellowships that really drives that point,” said Owen.  “It gives you money to start that engagement process.” 

Four fellows will be presenting their work on Friday.

Rebecca Lybrand’s research is on the connection between soils and climate in the Southwest and beyond.  The goal is her project is to create two short films that document her research as a soil scientist across the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona.  One film will use a “science message” and the other, a “science story.”

Ling- Yee Huang focused on achieving scientific literacy in the classroom. The project involves developing an integrated climate science and climate law curriculum for the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.  The final curriculum will be a template than can be adapted for other law schools, practitioner, law makers and judiciary. 

Chris Guiterman conducted use inspired research to guide tribal forest management.   He worked with the Navajo Forestry Department foresters to address their needs.  The study will provide an improved assessment of forest response to climate change that is vital to natural resource planning and management, 

Sarah Truebe assessed speleothem sampling methods of paleoclimate research.  The methods used to extract past climate information from speleotherms are destructive because sampling occurs along the growth axis. The final product will be a peer-reviewed methodology assessment, giving managers and scientists a place to start when wanting to sample in a more conservation-friendly way.

Norbert Brings Flooding and Record Rains to the Southwest

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yesterday (Monday Sept 08) brought considerable moisture to Southern Arizona and Nevada, as both the Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas saw considerable flooding, including record rainfall totals for both areas.  This moisture was brought in by Hurricane/TS Norbert, and had been anticipated since it began curving back into the Pacific coast.  There is precedent for this type of moisture, as Mike Crimmins laid out in his blog post addressing the moisture that TS/Hurricane systems bring to the Southwest, but it remains difficult to predict the exact effect of these storms.  The experience in both Tucson and Phoenix show how disruptive and fast moving these storms (and their runoff) can be, as well as how quickly these waters can subside once they move through.

Arizona Facing High Fire Danger a Year After Yarnell

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Originally published, June 30, 2014 on the UA News Blog


It was one year ago that lightning struck and ignited the Yarnell Hill Fire, a devastating wildfire that resulted in the deaths of 19 firefighters who were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This year, a combination of drought conditions, high winds and high temperatures all call for an intense fire season. Predictions indicate above-normal fire potential, and indicators suggest the onset of the monsoon season will be delayed.

Photo: High Park Fire - Creative Commons

Since October, we've had very low precipitation – averaging less than half of average across large portions of the state – accompanied by low snowpack and temperatures that have been well above average.

The combination of these factors, along with bursts of dry winds that are typical for the spring, gives us conditions of above-normal fire potential, which is what the Southwest Coordination Center, the main fire prediction center for our region, predicted beginning in late January.

And the setup for this year's fire season is ongoing drought, which affects every part of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor characterizes drought in Arizona as severe across most of the state, and as extreme in Yavapai County and much of the southeastern quarter of the state.

As of June 24, Arizona wildland fire totals, not including prescribed fires, were 139,378 acres from 783 human-caused and 50 lightning-caused fires. The total acres burned thus far exceed the median acres burned for the state for the whole fire season.

In southern Arizona, we are just past the median date of peak seasonal fire danger, but the date can vary by two weeks in any given year. Peak seasonal fire danger for northwestern Arizona, including Yavapai County where the Yarnell Hill Fire occurred in 2013, is right now – June 30 through July 1 – according to maps provided by the Southwest Coordination Center. And, earlier this year, the Southwest Coordination Center predicted above normal fire potential for mid-May through mid-July, for the southeast quarter of Arizona, stretching northwest into Yavapai County.

The current "energy release component," which indicates how hot a fire could burn, is very high and is above 2013 levels across much of Arizona. This is just one measure of fire danger commonly used by fire analysts, expressing the potential intensity of a fire given the moisture content of fuels.

While it is not surprising at this time of year to see high short-term fire danger and above normal long-term potential for Arizona fires to require extra outside resources, such as air tankers and teams with highly specialized skills for fighting fires for putting out fires – this year's levels of fire danger are exceedingly high.

Any fire is devastating to the local community, and Arizona fires can have a lingering effect on the landscape, with post-fire effects such as flooding and debris flows. It is notable that we have not suffered an enormous Wallow or Rodeo-Chediski sized fire. The Slide Fire, which burned in Oak Creek Canyon in May and early June, was severe and it occurred in very steep terrain, which increases the chances of post-fire impacts. It is a testament to the fire-fighting community and its heightened preparedness for this year's fire season that the Slide Fire did not consume even greater acreage than the 21,227 acres burned by the fire.

Looking ahead, the arrival of summer monsoon precipitation is the key to putting a lid on Arizona's high fire potential.

However, the monsoon is notoriously difficult to predict. And predicting the arrival of the monsoon is even more difficult. Nevertheless, the Southwest Coordination Center predicts a delay to the start of the monsoon. Based on comparisons with previous years that had conditions similar to 2014, the Coordination Center predicts more reliable monsoon rains east of the Continental Divide, in New Mexico. Center specialists also note that less reliable moisture on the Arizona side of the divide can lead to the possibility of continued significant fire activity into July and possibly August.

See tips on how to prevent wildfires in this post.


Gregg Garfin is Deputy Director for Science Translation & Outreach, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona

Farm and Ranch Weather and Climate Workshop

Thursday, June 5, 2014

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the National Weather Service – Tucson Forecast office are sponsoring a morning long training workshop on weather and climate information focused on supporting agricultural and resource management decision- making. Topics will include:

  • Finding and interpreting NOAA-NWS weather monitoring and forecast products
  • An overview of the UofA Arizona Meteorological Network and crop and irrigation management products
  • A discussion of drought monitoring efforts including an overview of the U.S. Drought Monitor
  • El Niño and an update of seasonal forecasts through winter of 2014/15

The workshop will end with an informal discussion of information needs and opportunities for further product and service development to support southeast Arizona. Lunch will be provided.

June 12, 2014 – 8:30 -12pm - (Check-in begins at 8am)

Willcox Community Center – Fireplace Room

312 W Stewart Street, Willcox

Please register for the workshop by June 6th by calling 520-384-3594 or by emailing Connie at cforsyth@ag.arizona.edu

Workshop Materials / Key Web Links

Contact Mike Crimmins with questions/comments about the materials/workshop

Video: UA experts discuss Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CLIMAS and the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions co-sponsored a panel of UA experts to discuss the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) entitled "Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability." This report, from the IPCC's Working Group II (WGII), provides an assessment of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of climate change vulnerability for and impact on ecological systems, socio-economic sectors and human health, with an emphasis on regional, sectoral and cross-sectoral issues.

IPCC Panel Discussion March 31 2014 from Environment UA on Vimeo.

UA experts discuss the IPCC WGII Report: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Monday, March 31, 2014

A video recording of this IPCC panel discussion is now available on the CLIMAS media page.

Monday, March 31, 2014
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
UA Student Union, Kiva Room

CLIMAS and the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions are co-sponsoring a panel of UA experts to discuss the forthcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) entitled "Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability." This report, from the IPCC's Working Group II (WGII), provides an assessment of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of climate change vulnerability for and impact on ecological systems, socio-economic sectors and human health, with an emphasis on regional, sectoral and cross-sectoral issues.

A panel of UA experts will discuss the report and field questions. We encourage interested members of the public, the university community, and the press to attend.

The WGII Report's Summary for Policymakers is scheduled to be released just prior to the event and will be available at: http://www.ipcc.ch

The panelists are as follows:

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment and a lead author on the IPCC WGII chapter on terrestrial and inland water systems, will provide a short overview of the Summary for Policymakers. Overpeck has published more than 160 papers in climate and the environmental sciences and served as a coordinating lead author for the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment (2007).


Kathy Jacobs, director of the UA Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions, will speak on some of the climate adaptation activities detailed in the forthcoming IPCC report with a particular focus on North America. Jacobs is a nationally recognized water, climate and adaptation expert who recently returned to the UA from Washington, D.C., where she spent the past four years as assistant director in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House. There she was the lead advisor on climate adaptation and water issues and director of the Third National Climate Assessment.


Christopher Scott, an associate professor in the UA Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy and the School of Geography and Development, will discuss adaptation and decision making in the context of water resource issues in the Southwest and across the globe. His research and stakeholder engagement work addresses water resources and policy, human-environment interactions, the water-energy nexus, and climate adaptation.  His applied research emphasizes the importance of science-policy dialogues with particular attention to ecosystem services, groundwater depletion, water reuse, and transboundary adaptive management.


David Breshears, a professor in the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, will discuss climate change impacts on ecological systems. His research focuses on interactions among woody and herbaceous plants in the context of the grassland/forest continuum, ecological and hydrological interrelationships, impacts of drought and fire, water and wind erosion, and more recently, biophysical scaling relationships and new technology for measuring soil carbon. His research has been applied to a diverse set of assessments in areas including contaminant-related risks, land management, and global change.


Diana Liverman, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment, will discuss impacts on, and vulnerability of, food systems, human security, key economic sectors, and other cross-sectoral issues. Her research focuses on the human and social dimensions of environmental issues including vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, environmental change and food security, and international climate and environmental policy. She has authored or edited seven books, more than 100 journal articles and book chapters and has supervised more than 60 graduate students.

CLIMAS Colloquium: Local Climate Impacts & Global Supply Chains

Friday, March 28, 2014

A video recording is now available on the CLIMAS media page

CLIMAS Colloquium Series

Speaker: Diana Liverman, Co-Director, Institute of the Environment and Regents Professor, School of Geography and Development

Title: “Understanding local climate impacts in the context of global supply chains”
When: 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. on Friday, 3/28/14
Where: UA Marshall Building, Room 531

 

Abstract: This spring IPCC and the USGCRP will release important reports that document the potential impacts of climate change for the world and for the United States.  Their reports represent the latest science and are designed to be relevant to stakeholders.  In this talk, Diana Liverman will discuss the extent to which these and other assessments cover key sectors of global and regional economies and the challenges involved in understanding local climate impacts in a global economy.   Assessments do not provide adequate analysis of major sectors such as manufacturing and services that underpin our economies and comprise key stakeholders.  In many cases, the local effects of climate extremes and changes can only be understood in a global context - for example our food security in southern Arizona is only weakly connected to agricultural production in our region but is very dependent on climate impacts in other regions (that we import from) and on food prices that are often determined within global trading systems. Liverman will review some recent case studies and proposals to study climate and supply chains as a way to better understand climate impacts in the business sector and across the globe.

Climate & Health Workshop

Friday, February 14, 2014

This workshop is open to UA researchers engaged in research around climate and health. The workshop will aim to stimulate research on the climate and health nexus, to learn about research in this area occurring on our campus, and especially, to see if substantial interest exists in pursuing collaborative grants.

A light breakfast will be provided.

Agenda:
8:30-8:45 a.m.—Introduction—Margaret Wilder & Heidi Brown, Co-PIs, CLIMAS
8:45-9:15 a.m.—Climate-Health Research at the UA: Setting the Context—Provost Andrew Comrie (Co-PI, CLIMAS)
9:15-10:15 a.m.—Discussion about advancing climate-health research at the UA
10:15-10:30 a.m.—Next steps – discussion of future workshop and proposals
10:30 a.m.—Adjournment

The meeting will feature a keynote address by Provost Andrew Comrie, CLIMAS co-PI and Professor in the School of Geography and Development, whose research examines the links between climate and mosquito-borne disease in the Southwest. Following the Provost’s presentation, we will then have a discussion about climate and health research at the University of Arizona, to gauge interest in developing ideas for larger collaborative research proposals. The workshop’s outcome will be a concrete framework to carry out these proposals moving forward. We believe that a number of undeveloped synergies exist on campus that could bloom into a productive research cluster around climate and health in the future. Please see included agenda.

Please respond to Emma Lawlor at ejlawlor@email.arizona.edu by Monday, February 10, to RSVP for the workshop.

Roundtable Discussion with Professor Hari Osofsky

Friday, February 7, 2014

Professor Hari Osofsky, visiting from the University of Minnesota Law School, will give a brief presentation about her work on the dynamics of local networks in climate change policy. Her talk will be followed by a moderated discussion about climate change governance at the regional level. 

Space is limited, so please RSVP to Ryan Thomas <ryanthomas@email.arizona.edu> by noon on Thursday, February 6, 2014.

About Prof. Osofsky:
Professor Osofsky's interdisciplinary law and geography scholarship focuses on governance and justice concerns related to energy and climate change. She collaborates with local, state and county governments on climate change policy in the Twin Cities and Hennepin County, researching methods of overcoming jurisdictional boundaries in climate policymaking.

CLIMAS Colloquium: Megadrought Risk - From the Globe Down to the Southwest

Friday, January 24, 2014

CLIMAS Colloquium Series
Speaker: Jonathan Overpeck

Increased drought risk is (and will be) arguably one of the most certain and troubling aspects of anthropogenic climate change for many parts of the world. At the same time, it is emerging in the scientific literature that state-of-the-art climate and Earth system models are not able to simulate the full range of drought, whether decade-scale droughts like seen recently in both the SW US, and Australia, or multidecadal “megadroughts” that eclipse droughts of the instrumental era in both duration and severity. Evidence for this assertion will be examined, particularly as it comes from the paleoclimatic record of several continents, in both semi-arid and wetter regions. The implications for decision-making will also be discussed, including the on-going operational use, in the United States, of no-regrets drought planning strategies that incorporate paleoclimatic data. Fortunately, because droughts will still occur for natural reasons as well as anthropogenic, increased drought preparedness is a clear “no-regrets” climate change adaptation strategy.

CLIMAS Colloquium: A Southwest Perspective on Climate Change and Health

Friday, November 22, 2013

While there are generalizations that can be made about the effect climate change will have on health, these effects will vary by community.  This talk focuses on the Southwest and some of the health concerns that communities here may face, what actions are being done and what can be done. Brown will delve into the complexity that is climate change and health by focusing on an effort to predict future mosquito borne disease burden. Using a dynamic simulation model, she was able to estimate the number of West Nile virus vectors at different locations across the US under future climate scenarios. Her findings highlight the importance of local action as the changes in vector abundance are not consistent across locations.

November CLIMAS Colloquium: A Southwest perspective on climate change and health

Presenter: Heidi Brown, Ph.D., M.P.H,

Title: “A Southwest Perspective on Climate Change and Health”

Regional Climate Summit for Municipal Leaders: Economic, Health, Water & Transportation Impacts

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Workshop report now available: Planning for Change in Southern Arizona

Update: Thanks to everyone who attended this event and helped make this a successful workshop. Click on the Agenda link to the left to browse the workshop agenda, speaker bios, and to download PDFs of the presentations from this workshop.

Decision makers in southern Arizona face new challenges as climate variability and weather extremes increasingly affect the region. Our municipalities undertake planning activities and public investments that shape our economic prosperity, public health, and environment. Extreme events, warmer temperatures, and changes in precipitation will dramatically impact these efforts.   This half-day summit will explore the risks, potential costs, and proactive solutions necessary to combat and cope with climate change challenges affecting southern Arizona. Participants will learn from other municipal leaders and technical experts. The summit begins a dynamic regional dialogue to leverage ongoing and future efforts in cross-jurisdictional climate-related challenges.

Summit topics include:

  • Economic challenges and opportunities
  • Water, health, and energy in a changing climate
  • Public opinions about climate change

Advancing Climate Adaptation and Resliency Planning in Flagstaff

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Flagstaff City Manager’s office in collaboration with CLIMAS at the University of Arizona and the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University will lead a workshop with the Police Department and the Streets section of the Public Works Department to develop performance measure for climate adaptation that these departments can use in future budget preparations and strategic planning.  The workshop will build on Flagstaff’s Resiliency and Preparedness Study (RPS) and the policies adopted by the Flagstaff City Council. The workshop will be divided into two parts. The first section will include expert presentations on topics that will inform the second Part.  After part 1, participants for police and public works departments will be split up and lead through a series of progressive discussions that aim to:

  • Identify climate risks pertaining to the department
  • Identify short and long-term strategies to deal with those risks
  • Develop planning/implementing actions related to the viable strategies
  • Identify ways to measure the success of the actions
  • Identify viable performance measures of the actions

The discussion sessions will focus on vulnerabilities and risks identified in the RPS and that fall under the purview of Police and Public Works. These include emergency services, forest management, public health, transportation infrastructure, and storm water infrastructure. 

The goal of the workshop will be for participants to develop climate adaptation performance measures in their respective departments.  While this effort is not meant to be comprehensive, the intent is to identify viable climate adaptation actions that can be evaluated for each of the departments and demonstrate a method for doing so that can be applied to other departments within the Flagstaff City Manager’s office. 

Recent Variations in Low-Temperature and Moisture Constraints on Vegetation in the Southwestern U.S.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dr. Jeremy Weiss, a senior researcher with UA’s Environmental Studies Laboratory, will discuss the importance of seasonality and elevational gradients for understanding the effects of drought and warming on vegetation in topographically complex regions like the Southwest, and explain how projected changes in future regional climate may potentially further or alter these effects.

Starting in the late 1970s, warming in the Southwest has produced fewer cool season freezes, losses in regional snowpack, earlier spring flowering and leafout, and hotter summers, all of which should affect vegetation differently across the region’s diverse climatic and biotic zones. Another potential impact of the ongoing regional warming is changes in how recent and future droughts affect vegetation. One way to examine the effects of drought and a warming climate on vegetation is to compare climatic controls on photosynthesis and transpiration during the major regional droughts of the 1950s and 2000s, periods of unusually dry conditions before and during the recent decades of warming.

Weiss and his colleagues examined indices that represent climatic constraints on foliar growth for both drought periods and evaluated these indices for areas that experienced tree mortality during the 2000s drought. They found that relative to the 1950s drought, warmer conditions during the 2000s drought reduced cold temperature constraints at lower elevations in winter and higher elevations in summer. Warmer conditions also increased aridity (as measured by vapor pressure deficit) from early spring through late autumn. Increased vapor pressure deficits are extremely limiting to foliar growth.

For more information about this research project, visit:
http://www.geo.arizona.edu/dgesl/research/other/climateGEM/climateGEM.htm

Field of Dreams, or Dream Team? Assessing Two Models for Drought Impact Reporting in the Semiarid Southwest

Friday, March 22, 2013

To make decisions about drought declarations, status, and relief funds, decision makers need high quality local-level drought impact data. In response to this need in Arizona, the Arizona DroughtWatch program was created, which includes an online drought impacts reporting system. Despite extensive and intensive collaboration and consultation with the intended public participants, Arizona DroughtWatch has had few consistent users and has failed to live up to its goal of providing decision makers or the public with high quality drought impacts data.

In this talk Dr. Meadow will present results of a project to evaluate the Arizona DroughtWatch program (forthcoming in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society), which revealed several weaknesses in the public-participation reporting-system model including: reduced participation due to participants’ over commitment and time constraints, consultation fatigue, and confusion about the value of qualitative impact reports. Based on these findings, the study authors recommend that professional resource agency personnel provide the backbone of drought impacts monitoring to ensure that decision makers receive the high-quality, consistent information they require. Public participation in impacts monitoring efforts can also be improved using this model. Professional observers can help attract volunteers who consider access to high-quality data an incentive to visit the Arizona DroughtWatch site and who may be more likely to participate in impacts monitoring if they see examples of how the information is being used by decision-makers.

Drought Impacts on Dust and Health in New Mexico

Friday, March 1, 2013

Campus Christian Center, Second Floor
University of Arizona

Dust storms create both health issues and transportation hazards. Valley Fever is endemic to the border region and gets carried with the dust. Interstates and local highways are often closed for hours in an attempt to avoid accidents and injuries. Windblown dust concentrations can be very high when strong winds occur during extended droughts - creating “exceptional episodes” of poor air quality. Air quality in rural areas of New Mexico and along the US/Mexico border is normally acceptable and well below the US EPA’s air quality standards for particulate matter. But these episodes expose millions of people to particulate levels that exceed air quality standards.

The state climatologist of New Mexico is working with the New Mexico Departments of Health and the Environment to reduce exposure during dust storms. They are investigating the dust emission generation, transport, and human exposure processes and trying to develop mitigation strategies. Determining the sources of windblown dust through ground observations and remote sensing are improving monitoring and forecasting efforts.

Key Findings from the Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Southwest is one of the most sensitive regions to climate change in the U.S., and a soon-to-be-released synthesis report will provide the most comprehensive update on the state-of-the-science on climate changes and impacts for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The report, “The Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” documents that the Southwest will likely experience continued temperature increases, summer heat waves longer and hotter than experienced in the past, and reduced streamflows, among other climate and ecosystem changes. The report also highlights potential critical changes in key sectors. Agriculture, for example, will likely experience fewer chill-hours, which may force-out some fruit tree producers. Energy production may become less reliable due to potential climate-related increases in demand and declines in power generation efficiency due to increased heat and decreased water supplies. And public health may experience increases in human morbidity and mortality due to increased heat.
 
Gregg Garfin, lead-coordinating author of this report, will present these and other key findings on Friday, Jan. 25th at 10:30 am in Marshall 531. The report drew on contributions from 121 authors and will be published in early 2013. You can currently access the first chapter of the report, known as the Summary for Decision Makers. The full report will be available here.

The Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States is one of eight regional technical contributions to the National Climate Assessment, which will summarize key findings from each region and will help inform informs the nation about observed changes and anticipated climate trends.  The National Climate Assessment report will be published later this year.

National Climate Assessment Regional Town Hall

Friday, January 18, 2013

This day-long town hall meeting will bring together approximately 90 people, including climate experts and users of climate information from academia, local, state, tribal, and federal governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, and industry. This event is by invitation only.  Participants will have the opportunity to:

  • learn about the National Climate Assessment and the process leading to the 2013 National Climate Assessment Report (a draft of the report will be available for public comment at the time of the meeting);
  • talk with report authors, members of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, and National Climate Assessment staff about how the information provided in National Climate Assessment products is and can be used in various decision making contexts;
  • learn about local and regional efforts to respond to the impacts of climate change in the Southwest U.S.; and
  • collaborate with other meeting participants to identify ways that you and your community can participate in the long-term National Climate Assessment process.

The town hall will consist of both plenary panels and small group discussions. During the plenary session, National Climate Assessment authors and staff will provide an overview of the National Climate Assessment process, present preliminary findings from the Draft 2013 National Climate Assessment Report, and explain how members of the public may comment on the Draft Report. Additional speakers will highlight local and regional efforts to assess and respond to the challenges of climate change, and will explore the ways in which efforts in the Southwest U.S. are linked to the National Climate Assessment. During the small group discussion time, you will have an opportunity share your own expertise and insights related to climate, assessments, and decision making in the context of climate change, and to suggest and plan pathways to build sustained assessment capacity in the Southwest U.S.