Twin storms boost Colorado’s January snowpack

Entire state blanketed with snow in early Feburary

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Mid-winter, and nearly all of Colorado has snow on the ground.

Staff Report

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Snowpack is at or above average in all of Colorado’s river basins.

A pair of storms that bookended January helped raise the statewide snowpack level to 111 percent of average as of Feb. 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Survey.

Satellite images and other remote sensors operation by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center storms left nearly the entire state blanketed in snow. Without those two storms, January snowfall would only have been about 70 percent of average for the month, said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor with the NRCS.

Snowfall continued through February 3, which increased snowpack totals to as high as 117 percent of normal as of Feb 4. The mountains of Southern Colorado saw the greatest increase in snow-water equivalent. From January 28 to February 3. total snowpack depth increased as much as 30 inches at the Cumbres Trestle SNOTEL in the San Juan Mountain range.

As of February 1, the snowpack was below average in only a handful of minor watersheds. All other drainages were above to well above normal. While the late January storms benefitted the entire state, January precipitation as a whole was particularly slim in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins and storms only amounted to about 75 percent of normal monthly snowpack accumulation.

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Global warming: Goodbye to sea scallops?

A northward shift of the Gulf Stream could warm waters off the New England coast significantly, according to a new NOAA study. Graphic courtesy NASA.

Rapidly warming ocean temperatures off the New England coast are affecting many marine species. Graphic courtesy NASA.

New vulnerability assessment to help guide fisheries management

Staff Report

Rapidly warming ocean temperatures off the coast of the Northeastern U.S. are likely to have a big impact on nearly all fish and other marine life in the region. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration carefully surveyed 82 species in a recent study, trying to identify which are the most vulnerable to global warming.

“Our method identifies specific attributes that influence marine fish and invertebrate resilience to the effects of a warming ocean and characterizes risks posed to individual species,” said Jon Hare, a fisheries oceanographer at NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and lead author of the study. “This work will help us better account for the effects of warming waters on our fishery species in stock assessments and when developing fishery management measures.” Continue reading

Colorado lawmakers want to beef up state climate plan

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Global temperatures are rising inexorably. A state climate plan with teeth could ensure that Colorado is doing its part to meet the goals of the 2015 climate agreement reached at the COP21 talks in Paris.

Proposed House Bill 1004 would require state to set measurable targets and report progress annually to lawmakers

By Bob Berwyn

Colorado climate activists and their allies in the State Legislature want to add some teeth to a climate plan released last year by the Hickenlooper administration. The plan acknowledges the impacts and establishes a vague framework for addressing global warming in Colorado, but was criticized for lacking measurable targets.

2015 was by far the hottest year on record for the globe, breaking the record set in 2014. It was the third-warmest year on record for Colorado. The year also saw a modern record set for wildfires, as well as the most widespread bloom of toxin-producing algae ever recorded along the West Coast. In Colorado, scientists recently reported on finding extreme climate change impacts in the state’s alpine zone. Continue reading

Climate study says West Antarctic Ice Sheet could melt quickly

The ice fields of Antarctica

How quickly will the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt away under global warming? @bberwyn photo.

‘All signs suggest the ice from West Antarctica could disappear relatively quickly …’

Staff Report

An in-depth survey of Antarctica’s rugged Ellsworth Mountains suggests that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could melt quickly under the influence of global warming, potentially raising global sea level by three meters.

“It is possible that the ice sheet has passed the point of no return and, if so, the big question is how much will go and how much will sea levels rise,” said Professor John Woodward, of the University of Northumbria. Continue reading

Report offers mixed climate change outlook for pikas

Colorado pika

A Quandary Peak pika enjoys sunny weather. @bberwyn photo.

Some populations likely to blink out because of global warming

Staff Report

Climate change may push pikas out of some western national parks, but they are expected to survive in others, where global warming won’t hit quite so hard, scientists said in a new report.

The tiny mammals are common residents of the alpine zone in the West, but warmer and drier conditions will shrink their habitat in some regions in the coming decades. The study concluded that warmer temperatures in Rocky Mountain National Park will cause habitat suitability and connectivity to decline, making that population “highly vulnerable to extirpation.” Continue reading

Study warns that some misguided climate change adaptation efforts could do more harm than good

Sea level is rising, and will continue to rise for centuries even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Sea level is rising, and will continue to rise for centuries even if greenhouse gas emissions are stopped immediately, and low-lying areas like the Mississippi Delta are already feeling the effects. @bberwyn photo.

‘Functioning and intact forests, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs represent our greatest protection against floods and storms’

Staff Report

Climate change adaptation is more than a slogan in many parts of the world, as communities work to protect themselves from the impacts of a warming world.

But a new study says planners must carefully think through their responses — some changes could leave people worse off in the future, according to scientists with CSIRO, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland.

Their findings, published in Nature Climate Change, discusses how certain adaptation strategies may have a negative impact on nature which in turn will impact people in the long-term. Many climate adaptation strategies such as sea wall construction and new agricultural practices do more harm than good, the researchers concluded. Continue reading

Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

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Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading

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