Skiers have as much to lose as anyone. Glaciers are shrinking everywhere, overall there is less snow and winters are getting shorter at both ends, but especially in the spring. In a groundbreaking 2013 study, the U.S. Geological study found a 20 percent decline in Rocky Mountain snow cover since 1980.
Another research paper published just this year in meticulous Swiss fashion documented that the snow season has shortened by 37 days since 1970, with a 25 percent decline in the average maximum snow depth across the entire Swiss Alps, at all elevations. The researchers were surprised to find the decline even at the higher mountain weather stations close to famous resorts like Zermatt and Davos.
In another Christmas-themed story, I reported on a Norwegian study that showed how widespread grazing by reindeer affects the reflectivity in northern tundra regions. It turns out that when the ungulates munch shrubs and brush, they make the world cooler: Save the Reindeer, Save the Arctic.
Another sign that we may be near a climate tipping point is research from California showing that some severely burned forests just aren’t regenerating at all. The fires have become so big and so intense that all the seed stock trees are destroyed, leaving big cleared areas where there is no source for new growth — except for shrubs and brush that quickly grow to dominate the landscape and prevent new seedlings from taking root: California Forests Failing to Regrow After Intense Wildfires.
And some people think that they don’t have to worry about climate change because they heard global warming slowed down between 1998 and 2012. Not so, according to scientists who recalculated the rate of warming in the world’s oceans to show there was no hiatus: Already Debunked Global Warming ‘Hiatus’ Gets Another Dunking.
I covered some ground this year with Summit Voice and all around the web, with diverse reporting and photojournalism from two continents, and I’ll post links to some of the top stories of 2016 in the next few days, but we also wanted to take a look back at the past year in photos, starting with a few favorites from early last winter. My favorite shot of the year is the shadow silhouette at Red Rocks, taken at dawn, Christmas morning. If you have sharp eyes, you’ll be able to pick out some of Colorado’s best ski areas in the monochrome shot taken from a commercial airliner headed west from Denver. Out weekly photo sets are here, and you can also check out our online gallery here. We also closed out the year with a fine environmental photo essay of the cryosphere for Pacific Standard.
Record and near-record readings from coast to coast
November 2016’s average temperature across the U.S. was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making it the second-warmest on record, behind 1999. According to the latest monthly update from the National Centers for Environmental Information, November is warming at a rate of 6.6 degrees Fahrenheit per century. Only January has been warming faster, at a rate of 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit per century.
A quick flashback set featuring winter scenes from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It’s not always that easy to get motivated for a photo session when it’s below freezing outside, but it’s always worth it when you do, because, well, there are some things that you can only see in winter — delicate ice filaments forming on the surface of a creek that somehow manages to keep flowing through sub-zero air, or a winter storm clearing just in time to give way to the warm orange glow of sunrise. And it’s always fun to take a look at the structure of ice. So don’t put away your camera when the weather gets chilly. Just make sure your batteries are fully charged
Alaska, Southwest could see early season forest fires
April precipitation may have helped dampen the potential for a severe wildfire season in parts of the Rocky Mountain region and in the adjacent Great Plains, according to a new outlook from the interagency Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
The projections is based on various seasonal indicators including precipitation, snowpack average, temperatures, wind, plant and soil moisture, and the timing of green-up. These indices support a below average to near average fire season in 2016.