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Glacier inventory to help with sea level projections

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The world’s glaciers are dwindling.

CU Boulder scientists help lead mapping effort

Staff Report

FRISCO — Lots of quibbling over the exact rate and pace of glacier melt has at least partly obscured the grim reality that many of the world’s glaciated regions will see profound changes in the next few decades as global temperatures continue to rise.

That meltdown will raise sea level, but so far, nobody has been able to quantify the amount precisely. But new data gathered in a study led by University of Colorado, Boulder scientists should help. The team, including researchers from Trent University in Ontario, Canada recently completed the first mapping of virtually all of the world’s glaciers. That enables calculations of their volumes and ongoing contributions to global sea rise as the world warms. Continue reading

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Forests: New CU-Boulder study shows nuances in tree-killing pine beetle epidemic

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Lodgepole pines killed by beetles stand silhoutted against the evening sky in Summit County, Colorado.

Smooth-barked trees better able to repel insects

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Lodgepole and ponderosa pines with smoother bark may be better at repelling tree-killing bugs, according to Boulder-based researchers with the University of Colorado.

The new findings may help forest managers as they plan logging projects, especially in areas where there is a need to protect high-value trees — in developed recreation areas or on private property.

The study was published online in the journal Functional Ecology. While the current pine beetle epidemic has slowed dramatically in many areas, it wiped out millions of trees across 3.4 million acres since 1996. Continue reading

New study dates oldest known North American rock art

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A CU-Boulder led study helped pinpoint the age of petroglyphs carved into these Nevada boulders. Photo courtesy CU-Boulder.

Meaning of Nevada petroglyphs remain a mystery

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Stone Age North American cave dwellers may have been preoccupied with finding food most of the time, but they still found the time to leave their mark by carving mysterious symbols into prominent boulders.

Now, a University of Colorado Boulder researcher believes he’s discovered the oldest known petroglyphs in the country.

The carvings on a boulder in western Nevada date to at least 10,500 years ago and perhaps even as far back as 14,800 years ago, according to CU-Boulder researcher Larry Benson. Continue reading

CU study aims to spur homeowner wildfire mitigation

Social scientists to probe homeowner behavior in the red zone

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Social scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder want to find the most effective ways to encourage homeowners to reduce wildfire risk on their property. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A pair of University of Colorado Boulder social science researchers will use a $298,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to try and determine what sort of information shapes homeowner behavior in fire-prone areas on Colorado’s Western Slope.

In the past 10 years, the social and economic costs of wildfires have soared across the country, and especially in the West. As wildfire hazards increase, mitigating risks on individual properties is of paramount importance.

Starting with the premise that each household’s actions can affect the choices of neighbors, the researchers want to explore two pathways linking homeowners’ choices as they relate to awareness about risk interdependency and social norms. Continue reading

Environment: ‘Biodiversity matters’

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Biodiverse amphibian communities are more resistant to parasitic infections.

Study shows diverse ecosystems are less susceptible to infectious diseases

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Biodiversity is a big environmental buzzword these days, but healthy ecosystems with a full range of species have value beyond just existing for their own sake. A new CU-Boulder study suggests that a wide range of amphibian species living in a pond helps protect the entire ecological community against a parasitic infection that can cause severe deformities, including the growth of extra legs.

The findings, published Feb. 14 in the journal Nature, support the idea that greater biodiversity in larger-scale ecosystems, such as forests or grasslands, may also provide greater protection against diseases, including those that attack humans. For example, a larger number of mammal species in an area may curb cases of Lyme disease, while a larger number of bird species may slow the spread of West Nile virus.

“How biodiversity affects the risk of infectious diseases, including those of humans and wildlife, has become an increasingly important question,” said Pieter Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the study. “But as it turns out, solidly testing these linkages with realistic experiments has proven very challenging in most systems.” Continue reading

Colorado: Study shows pine beetle invasion hasn’t led to serious nitrogen pollution in forest watersheds

Nature mitigates its own impacts

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Young trees and brush are increasing their nitrogen uptake in the wake of the pine beetle infestation, helping to minimize impacts to water quality. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Early fears that the bark beetle epidemic could degrade water quality are proving unfounded, according to CU-Boulder scientists, who said smaller trees and undergrowth that survive the epidemic have increased their uptake of nitrogen as the older trees die.

While logging or damaging storms can drive stream nitrate concentrations up by 400 percent for multiple years, the team found no significant increase in the nitrate concentrations following extensive pine beetle tree mortality in a number of Colorado study areas, according to CU-Boulder Professor William Lewis. Continue reading

Environment: Healing the desert

Research project explores cryptobiotic soil restoration

Cryptobiotic soil in southeastern Utah. Photo courtesy USGS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Led by University of Colorado researchers, scientists from around the country are teaming up to see if they can help restore damaged desert soils by growing biological soil crusts in a lab, then transplanting them to areas that have been damaged by military exercises and other activities.

The research could provide some clues as to how make desert ecosystems more resilient to climate change, and also has public health implications, since since the disturbance of biocrusts can trigger the release of significant amounts of atmospheric dust, a dominant pollutant in some desert metropolitan areas.

Fragile cryptobiotic soil plays a crucial role crucial in some desert ecosystems by preserving moisture, reducing erosion and fixing nitrogen. The crusts are extremely fragile  — even just a footprint can disturb the organisms, and it can decades for the damage to heal. Continue reading

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