Salt River Canyon
Salt River Canyon

UA Climate Science Center Receives $1.4M for Climate Change Studies

The studies will focus on how climate change will affect natural resources, water availability, conservation, vegetation and forests, and biodiversity, among other things.
Oct. 11, 2012
Stephen T. Jackson, director of the Southwest Climate Science Center
Stephen T. Jackson, director of the Southwest Climate Science Center
Jonathan Overpeck, lead principal investigator for the Southwest Climate Science Center and co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment
Jonathan Overpeck, lead principal investigator for the Southwest Climate Science Center and co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced the funding of more than $10 million in research for the agency’s Climate Science Centers, including a Southwest-focused center based at the University of Arizona, to be used to guide managers of parks, refuges and other resources in planning how to help species and ecosystems adapt to climate change.

The Southwest Climate Science Center, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, has received $1.4 million for studies that focus on how climate change will affect natural resources, identifying how sea-level rise will affect plants and animals in coastal areas in California; how climate will affect water availability, conservation, vegetation and forests, and biodiversity; how these changes will affect valued species of southwestern birds and reptiles; and how changes in climate will affect wetlands, fisheries and other resources of concern to Native Americans.

“The Southwest is among the most vulnerable regions of the United States in a changing climate. Our municipalities, industries and agriculture depend on water that ultimately comes from mountain snowpack and runoff. Our fish and wildlife resources are also vitally dependent on water, and the intensity and extent of wildfires is heavily influenced by temperature and moisture,” said Stephen T. Jackson, director of the center.

“Resource managers in the federal, state, tribal and municipal sectors need the best available scientific knowledge and tools to make wise decisions in a dynamic environment. The Southwest Climate Science Center will support development and delivery of that information to the front lines, where decisions are made,” he added.

The Southwest center is one of eight regional Climate Science Centers, or CSCs, established by the USGS to address the current and future effects of climate change on the nation’s natural and cultural resources. The UA serves as the overall coordination hub for the Southwest center as one of six host institutions in a consortium that also includes University of California, Davis and UCLA; the University of Colorado; the Desert Research Institute (Nevada); and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"It's great that the rapid build-up of the Southwest Climate Science Center has enabled us to fund such an impressive array of collaborative USGS-university research so early in the center's history," said Jonathan Overpeck, lead principal investigator for the center, co-director of the UA’s Institute of the Environment and a professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences. "This success is key given the obvious impacts our warmer and drier climate is now having on our water supply, vegetation and ecosystems."

Each of the eight Climate Science Centers worked with the universities supporting them; states; tribes; federal agencies; Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, networks of public-private partnerships; and other regional partners to identify the highest priority management challenges in need of scientific input, and to solicit and select research projects.

"Climate Science Centers are off and running to meet the needs of those who must safeguard our precious natural resources as the climate changes. These projects demonstrate the benefits of our national climate science strategy, which is focused on the needs of managers in each region," Salazar said.

Sixty-nine studies nationwide will be undertaken by teams of scientists from the universities that make up each CSC, from USGS science centers, and from other partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USDA Forest Service, Indian tribes and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives in each region.

"These projects demonstrate a powerful and growing partnership between USGS scientists and their academic and agency science colleagues," Salazar said. "By tapping this deep well of expertise, and linking it with USGS expertise, CSCs help direct the right science capacity to where it can do the most, and avoid duplication and waste."

UA researchers are leading two of the seven Southwest Climate Science Center’s studies. Ty Ferré, associate professor in the department of hydrology and water resources, is the lead investigator on a project examining the potential consequences of climate variability and climate change for the sustainability of water resources and riparian vegetation in the Southwest. The goal of the project is to inform natural resource managers about which systems may be most sensitive to climate.

Other researchers on the team include Jesse Dickinson, USGS Arizona Water Science Center; Christopher Castro, UA atmospheric sciences; Peter Troch, Rafael Rosolem, and Hoshin Gupta, UA hydrology and water resources; and Stan Leake, Pamela Nagler, and Randy Hanson, USGS.

The UA Water, Environmental and Energy Solutions; USGS National Institutes for Water Resources; and USGS Office of Groundwater provided additional support for the project.

In another project, Karletta Chief, assistant professor and assistant specialist in the department of soil, water and environmental science, is studying factors affecting Native American tribes, including water rights for fish and wildlife, protection of wetlands, enhancement and recovery of the Pyramid Lake fishery in Nevada, and protection of important fish species. The project aims to help manage potential conflicts among stakeholders by providing a better understanding of climate projections in the region.

In addition, Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the UA’s Institute of the Environment and an assistant specialist and assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, is part of a team analyzing the impacts of climate change on wildfires and assessing where and when climatic conditions are likely to stress vegetation.

The other Southwest-focused projects are led by scientists from the USGS and Southwest Climate Science Center host institutions.

The Climate Science Centers serve as the regional hubs of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, located at the headquarters of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey. USGS is taking the lead on establishing the CSCs and providing initial staffing.

Together, Interior’s CSCs and LCCs will assess the impacts of climate change and other landscape-scale stressors that typically extend beyond the borders of any single national wildlife refuge, national park or Bureau of Land Management unit and will identify strategies to ensure that resources across landscapes are resilient.