Climate study projects brutal Western droughts

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Shrunken reservoirs may become the norm across the West during the second half of the century. bberwyn photo.

All models point to significant drying and warming

Staff Report

FRISCO — By the second half of this century, the relentless increase in global greenhouse gases could push the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains toward persistent drought conditions worse than anything seen in ancient or modern times.

Drought conditions will likely be more severe than during several decades-long megadroughts that are well-documented by paleoclimate records, according to climate scientists with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

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Energy: New Southwest power line to boost production, distribution of renewable energy

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Energy infrastructure improvements are key to tapping renewable resources.

‘The SunZia transmission line will finally unlock New Mexico’s stranded wind and solar resources and move that energy to market’

Staff Report

FRISCO — A $2 billion, 550-mile transmission line project will bolster the U.S. energy grid’s capacity to use power generated from renewable sources in the Southwest, Obama administration leaders said as they announced approval for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project.

The line will run from the proposed SunZia East Substation in Lincoln County, New Mexico, to the existing Pinal Central Substation in Pinal County, Arizona.

“The SunZia Project will help unlock the abundant renewable energy resources in the Southwest, creating jobs and bringing reliable, sustainable power to a growing corner of our country,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Continue reading

Climate: Extended droughts spell trouble for Southwest birds

Western bluebird

Some birds won’t nest at all during drought years.

Some Sonoran Desert species skip breeding entirely during extreme drought

Staff Report

FRISCO — Drought-driven delayed nesting by some southwestern bird species may lead to crashing populations, scientists said in a new study that looked closely at Sonoran Desert bird species, such as Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Verdins.

The research suggests drought conditions are delaying nesting by two weeks or more for some species. Despite recent rainfall, drought conditions persist in much of the Southwest, making life tough even for species adapted to a dry environment.

Delayed nesting makes the birds more vulnerable to nest predators and parasites, according to the scientists with Point Blue Conservation Science and the U.S. Geological Survey finds that increased drought frequency in southwestern North America results in increased instances of delayed nesting. Continue reading

Climate: Greenhouse gas buildup ‘loads the dice’ for Southwest megadroughts

Odds of 30-year dry spells increase dramatically as global temps rise

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Green bars indicate wet periods, the larger the bar the more unusually wet. In a similar way, yellow indicates dry and droughty periods. The graph stretches from January 1895 on the left to last month on the right, showing how the cycle of droughts alternating with wet years has changed, with dry years becoming more prevalent.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Tree ring records clearly show that the southwestern U.S. experienced megadroughts long before the anthropogenic global warming era. One such decades-long dry spell may have been a factor in the collapse of the Anasazi civilization at Mesa Verde.

But the steady buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is loading the dice in favor of another megadrought sooner, rather later, according to scientists with Cornell University, the University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey. The chances of a decade-long drought is now at least 50 percent, and there’s a 20 percent to 50 percent chance of a 30-year megadrought.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions.” Continue reading

Global warming spells trouble for fish populations in desert rivers of the Southwest

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Dwindling precipitation in the Southwest spells trouble for native fish. bberwyn photo.

Study shows significant loss of fish habitat by mid-century

Staff Report

FRISCO — Big sections of vulnerable stream habitat for native fish in the Southwest are likely to disappear by mid-century as global warming causes stream flows to dwindle.

By 2050, stream-drying events could increase by 17 percent, and the number of zero-flow days could go up by 27 percent in the Verde River Basin, affecting species like speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and Sonora sucker (Catostomus insignis).

The drying trend will fragment aquatic habitat, hampering feeding and spawning. Some populations that are already isolated may very well disappear, said Ohio State University researcher Kristin Jaeger, an assistant professor at the School of Environment and Natural Resources. Continue reading

Study tracks early Native American ‘baby boom’

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Mesa Verde was a center of southwestern civilization. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Native American population history may offer lesson for modern society, as climate change may have caused subsequent crash

Staff Report

FRISCO — Everybody knows about the post-WWII baby boom, but there was another era when North America’s population swelled, as Native Americans in the Southwest shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

The “growth blip” between about 500 and 1300 A.D. is probably linked with emerging early features of civilization — including farming and food storage — and birth rates may have “exceeded the highest in the world today,” according to research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But like so often in human history, the boom was followed by a crash, offering a warning sign to modern societies about the potential risks of overpopulation, according to Tim Kohler, an anthropologist at Washington State University, who co-authored the paper with WSU researcher Kelsey Reese. Continue reading

Climate: New study projects major habitat losses for birds, reptiles in Southwest

Gray jay in Summit County Colorado

A gray jay searches for bugs in a stand of lodgepole pines near Frisco, Colorado.

A few bird species may gain some ground

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Reptile species like the iconic chuckwalla will probably experience significant habitat loss as global temperatures climb during the next few decades, scientists said this week in a new study projecting climate change impacts to southwestern birds and reptiles.

The study was done by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey,  University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University. Overall, the findings suggests many reptile species will lose ground as conditions get warmer and more dry.  Continue reading

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