Tag: Southwest

Study says global warming ups odds of Southwest megadrought

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases may dessicate Colorado River Basin

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.
Megadroughts ahead? Satellite photo of the Colorado River Basin via NASA.

Staff Report

It’s very likely the southwestern U.S. will be hit by droughts unlike any seen since the region was settled by Europeans. Global warming has driven the odds of a 10-year drought to at least 50 percent, and the chances of a 35-year megadrought range from 20 to 50 percent during the next century, according to a new study led by researchers with Cornell, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Global warming is “weighting the dice” for megadroughts, said lead study author Toby Ault, explaining that the buildup of greenhouse gases is shifting the climate dramatically. The study is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the  American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Continue reading “Study says global warming ups odds of Southwest megadrought”

New report shows how global warming will affect birds and reptiles in the Southwest.

 red-tailed hawk
Global warming will take a toll on reptiles and birds in the Southwest. @bberwyn photo.

Many bird species could lose between 78 and 85 percent of their existing habitat

Staff Report

Birds and reptiles in the Southwest that live in fragmented habitat will be hit hardest by global warming in the decades ahead, according to a new study by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Northern Arizona University.

The researchers took a close look at about 30 different animals, including well-known species such as the Gila monster, horned lizard, chuckwalla, Sonoran desert tortoise, pinyon jay, pygmy nuthatch, sage thrasher and black-throated sparrow.

A few species could see their habitat expand as the climate warms, but many others will be hit hard by global warming. Most climate models project temperatures to increase by about 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the Southwest in the next century, while precipitation is expected to decline by between 5 and 20 percent. Continue reading “New report shows how global warming will affect birds and reptiles in the Southwest.”

Wildlife: Court settlement compels feds to complete recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest

Mexican gray wolfWolf advocates hope for more releases of captive-bred wolves

Staff Report

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week agreed to prepare a recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves by 2017. The court settlement will compel the federal agency to finally meet its legal obligation to ensure that the wolves can establish a healthy, sustainable population. The settlement may speed up the slow-going conservation and recovery effort.

The settlement came in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of wolf-conservation groups, environmental organizations and a retired federal wolf biologist. Less than 100 Mexican gray wolves exist in the wild, making it one of the most endangered mammals in North America. The settlement follows a September 2015 ruling by a federal judge in Tucson that rejected the government’s effort to dismiss the case.

The recovery effort has long been mired in politics, with conservative Republican lawmakers setting roadblocks at every turn, pressuring the USFWS from the state level and trying to make end runs around the Endangered Species Act in Congress. Continue reading “Wildlife: Court settlement compels feds to complete recovery plan for Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest”

Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado

‘Every El Niño is different’

western precipitation map 2016
Precipitation across the West has been patchy for the water year to-date.

Staff Report

March snowfall across the Colorado mountains helped maintain the statewide snowpack near average for the water year to-date, but the strong El Niño hasn’t played out as expected.

Instead of boosting moisture in the southwestern corner of Colorado, this year’s edition of the Pacific Ocean warm-water cycle sent the storm track surging into the Pacific Northwest and then down across Colorado’s northern mountains. Northeastern Colorado has been the wettest of all, with a wide section of the plains seeing up to double the average annual rainfall so far.

That’s bad news for the Southwest, where moisture has been sparse for the past several years. Western New Mexico, most of Arizona and the southern California deserts and coast have been especially dry since the start of the rainy season. Regionally, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell was 94 percent of average as of March 17, and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that the inflow to Lake Powell will be just 80 percent of average for the April to July period. Continue reading “Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado”

Will global warming desiccate the Southwest?

‘A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was’

desert rain.
Will the Southwest’s life-giving rains fade away? @bberwyn photo.
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A federal climate assessment projects soaring temperatures for the Southwest.

Staff Report

A subtle long-term shift in atmospheric patterns driven by global warming could lead to longer and more intense droughts in the southwestern U.S. and other semi-arid regions. Most climate models suggest that that a belt of higher average pressure that now sits closer to the equator will move north. This high-pressure belt is created as air that rises over the equator moves poleward and then descends back toward the surface.

That shift may already be affecting the climate of the Southwest, as moisture-bearing weather patterns have become more rare in the region, according to a new study. Previous research has suggested that the region’s forests and fish and birds are in big trouble. In Australia, researchers are nearly certain that global warming was a factor in a record-breaking 2013 heatwave. A federal climate assessment released in 2013 also identified similar concerns for the Southwest.

“A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was,” said Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who led the study. “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.” Continue reading “Will global warming desiccate the Southwest?”

Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?

New study projects widespread forest mortality by 2100

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Vast swaths of spruce trees have died in southern Colorado during the past few years. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.
Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees.
Forest ecosystems around the world are under the gun from climate change, development, insect invasions and conversion to agriculture. This stand of lodgepoles in Colorado was clear cut after pine beetles killed most of the trees. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Unless deep greenhouse gas cuts happen soon, last month’s historic climate agreement may be too little, too late for some forests in the American Southwest, where scientists are projecting a widespread die-off of needleleaf evergreens — including pine, spruce, piñon and juniper trees — by 2100.

After combining data from field observations with climate model projections, the research team concluded that  72 percent of the region’s needleleaf evergreen forests will die by 2050, with nearly 100 percent mortality by 2100.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” said Sara Rauscher, assistant professor of geography in University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

It’s pretty clear that the die-off is already under way. Even drought-resistant species like piñon pines were hit hard by a drought in the early 2000s. A massive bark beetle infestation wiped out millions of acres of lodgepole pines in the southern Rockies, and spruce beetles have taken a big toll on once-lush spruce forests in southern Colorado. Continue reading “Can the Southwest’s forests survive global warming?”

Critical fire weather forecast across big swath of Southwest

All of Arizona, New Mexico encompassed in weekend warning from National Weather Service

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The National Weather Service is highlighting a large part of the Southwest for critical fire weather conditions. Hot temperatures and winds are expected.
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The Whitewater-Baldy Fire burning in New Mexico in June 2012. Photo courtesy Kari Greer/USFS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — In what may signify an early start to the western wildfire season, the National Weather Service Sunday issued bulletin warning that multiple days of critical fire weather conditions are expected across the Southwest this coming week.

From the NWS website:

“A dry airmass will be in place from the Great Basin to the Plains on Sunday. Temperatures warming into the 60s and 70s with wind gusts near 35 mph and relative humidity values from 10 to 15 percent will lead to elevated to critical fire danger. These conditions will likely remain in place until mid-week. Rapid growth and spread is likely with any fires that are ignited in and around this region.”

The warning for this week is a shift away from a seasonal forecast issued last month that didn’t include any elevated early season fire danger in the region. Parts of the Southwest saw some relief from a multi-year drought this winter, but overall, the region is still dry and fire danger can be significant even during normal precipitation years.

The areas with the highest potential for dangerous fires extends from southeastern California through southern Nevada, southeastern Utah, far western Colorado and covers nearly all of Arizona and much of New Mexico.

Both New Mexico and Arizona saw their largest wildfires on record during the past several years, including the 2011 Wallow Fire in Arizona, which burned across half a million acres (about 841 square miles). In New Mexico, the 2011 Las Conchas Fire burned about 150,000 acres, following by the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in 2012 in Catron County, New Mexico, which scorched nearly 300,000 acres.