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Morning photo: Wild west

Wide open spaces …

Sunset in Palisade, Colorado.

Photos by Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — I pulled together today’s photo essay as I was preparing for the popular Twitter #Expchat, a weekly forum for sharing travel information. I was struck by one thing: In all the thousands of tweets relating to travel in the West, not a single one mentioned shopping, nor did anyone say they wanted to visit Colorado and the West to look at gas drilling rigs. That’s not really a surprise. It’s the region’s wide open and protected spaces that are the real draw, and lawmakers, policy makers and other involved in developing management policies for these lands should take heed. Continue reading

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Environment: Some U.S. ozone spikes traced to Asia

Wind-blown pollution high in the atmosphere can settle to ground level and contribute to air quality violations in the western U.S.

This USDA map shows seasonal mean of ambient ozone concentrations between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. over the continental United States from 1 July to 31 September 2005. Areas shown in brown, orange and red can experience significant crop yield loss and damage to ecosystem function from ambient ozone.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Springtime air pollution from Asia, carried across the Pacific Ocean by strong west winds, sometimes raises ozone levels in western states to levels that exceed air quality standards, according to NOAA-led study.

The pollution is carried high in the atmosphere, but high-resolution models and observations showed how some of the imported pollution can descend to the surface, where it affects ground-level ozone, a regulated pollutant.

At high concentrations, ground-level ozone can cause severe respiratory effects in some people, and it damages crops, trees, and other vegetation.

“We showed that Asian pollution directly contributes to surface ozone pollution episodes in parts of the western United States,” said Meiyun Lin, Ph.D., lead author of the new study. In several areas, about half of the springtime pollution episodes that exceeded federal limits would probably not have occurred without the contribution of Asian pollution, Lin said.

Still, Asian pollution contributed to no more than 20 percent of the ground-level ozone, according to the new study. Other sources of the pollutant include local fossil fuel use, wildfires, and imported pollution from other regions of the globe.

Lin is a researcher with NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and the Cooperative Institute for Climate Science at Princeton University in New Jersey. The new paper is published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres.

The research team drew upon data collected by balloon-borne instruments, aircraft, ground instruments, and satellites during an intensive study of air quality and climate in California in 2010. The scientists said the instrumentation and models could enable forecasters to predict incoming pollution several days in advance, vital information for public health officials charged with issuing pollution warnings.

The researchers found that NOAA GFDL’s high-resolution chemistry-climate model, AM3, could accurately reproduce the real-world pattern of ozone levels observed in California. And the model could differentiate the effects of local emissions – from vehicles, power plants and other factors – from Asian emissions.

During episodes of high surface ozone in parts of California and the Southwest, Asian emissions added 8 to 15 parts per billion of ozone to air, comprising up to 20 percent of the total. The Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based standard limits ozone to 75 parts per billion (averaged over 8 hours). Roughly half of the pollution episodes that exceeded that health-based standard would not have occurred – the study reported – without the addition of Asian pollution.

 

West: Regional water outlook still uncertain

Water in the desert. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION.

 

Colorado River Basin snowpack at about 77 percent of average as of early February

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Low season flows into Lake Powell have been near normal in recent weeks, with the Colorado River delivering about 356,000 acre feet (99 percent of average) during January, leaving the reservoir about 63 feet below full pool.

With the overall snowpack in the Upper Colorado Basin at about 77 percent of average and the long-term weather outlook uncertain, water managers aren’t sure how the runoff season will go.

For now, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water supply forecast for April through July is predicting an inflow of about 5 million acre feet, which is about 71 percent of average — but that outlook comes with a caveat: “At this time of year however, there is a high level of uncertainty in hydrologic forecasts and the annual release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in WY2012 will ultimately be based on the actual inflows that occur during 2012 rather than this Water Supply forecast,” the USBR wrote in the monthly update. Continue reading

Travel: Exploring western water development

Hoover Dam. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION.

National Park Service creates online itinerary for historic water projects

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Water has been a defining force in the American West for eons, first shaping landscapes like the Grand Canyon, then shaping the lives of residents, from the Anasazi to modern-day settlers and developers who live and play in region.

The biggest transformation came in the early 20th century, with industrious and ambitious development schemes that resulted in a network of dams  reservoirs, and canals built that provide water for irrigation and hydropower generation.

This wholesale manipulation of water in the arid landscape spurred settlement, farming, and economic stability — though it’s still not clear whether this water-dependent culture is sustainable for the long-term. Continue reading

Weather: Dry West

Much of the West is dry — bone dry

Total precipitation for the weather year (starting Oct. 1, 2011) to-date across the West, from the Reno-based Western Regional Climate Center.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — If you’re missing the snow in Summit County, don’t feel like you’re being picked on. Much of the West, with the exception of a few pockets in Arizona and New Mexico, have been exceptionally dry so far this fall and early winter, with precipitation in California tracking toward all-time record low levels.

Just off the eastern edge of the map below, there’s a pocket of blue and purple indicating above normal precipitation in the southern high plains, and much of Wyoming is also covered by the cooler colors signifying substantial precipitation. Continue reading

Environment: Mining law overhaul is long overdue

The El Chino open-pit copper mine, near Silver City, New Mexico.

Record gold prices spurring new activity; watchdog groups say now is the time to update federal mining law

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — If federal lawmakers are serious about shrinking the budget deficit, they should be looking seriously at a proposal by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) that would make sure the oil, gas and mining industries pay their fare share.

Markey introduced his proposed legislation in the House Natural Resources Committee last week.

A key component of this comprehensive legislation would overhaul the General Mining Law of 1872, which allows mining of gold, copper, uranium and other metals virtually anywhere on Western public lands, with few environmental safeguards and no return to the taxpayers. Hardrock mining is the only industry that extracts resources from public lands that does not pay federal royalties. Continue reading

Summer flooding predicted across West, upper Midwest

More flooding is possible in the upper Midwest throughout the summer, according to weather forecasters.

Saturated soils, above-average rain could lead to record high water in some areas

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Western Colorado and Utah are included in areas under a warning for continuing flood threats this summer, according to forecasters with NOAA’s National Weather Service. The warnings are directed primarily at the upper Midwest and northern Plains, but parts of the West could also see more flooding if monsoon rains linger unusually long.

With rivers running high and soils completely saturated, just a small amount of rain could trigger more flooding, including areas that have already seen major to record flooding.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above-normal rain in most of these vulnerable areas in the next two weeks, and above-normal rainfall in much of the region in the one- and three-month outlooks. Adding to the flood threat will be the rising temperatures over the Rockies, which will release the water from the remaining snowpack. Continue reading

Wet spring in much of intermountain West

Spring storms continue to beef up the snowpack in the northern Rockies.

Big snowpack in northern Rockies, intensifying drought in Southwest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s the season for western water managers to keep a close eye on the snowpack and projected runoff, and the story in the early spring is the same as it was all winter long — well above average snowfall in the northern sector, with intensifying drought in big parts of the Southwest.

According to the Western Water Assessment, snowfall was significantly above the long-term norms in the northern Colorado mountains, the Wasatch Front in Utah and northern and western Wyoming, while little precipitation fell across central Wyoming, eastern and southern Utah and the plains of Colorado. Continue reading

Wildfire potential near-normal through December

Wet August, onset of seasonal weather change could limit chances for major blaze

Areas with above-average potential for wildfires are show in red.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Normal wildfire activity is expected across the West the next three months, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which released its September through December outlook recently. Seasonal fire danger will increase in Southern California as autumn offshore winds — the Santa Anas — kick in.

In our part of the Rockies, fire experts say La Niña conditions can increase the frequency of gusty winds that can make fires grow quickly, as evidenced by the rapid spread of the Labor Day fire near Boulder.

Click on the read more buttom for more: Continue reading

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