New funding available for climate adaptation research at Colorado State University

Smoke in Durango due to the 416 Fire

Improving communications between scientists, managers and decision-makers can result in benefits for a number of issues related to natural resources, including wildfire and water management. Photo: Ryan Cox, Colorado State Forest Service

Colorado State University has joined the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, based at the University of Arizona. CSU will receive $300,000 in initial funding to support research on climate science and adaption through the partnership. Full funding for the five-year, $4.5 million project comes from the United States Geological Survey.

The center, one of eight hosted by universities across the nation, is a consortium of seven academic institutions from across the region, including Desert Research Institute in Nevada; University of California, Davis; University of California, Los Angeles; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Utah State University.

Martha Wohlfeil Frank Fogarty
Doctoral students Martha Wohlfeil and Ken Zillig install temperature loggers in the mountains of central Nevada. Photo courtesy of Erica Fleishman, CEMML

Principal investigators at CSU include Erica Fleishman, director of the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML) and professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, and Brad Udall, senior research scientist with the Colorado Water Institute.

Fleishman said that research at CSU’s center will focus on ecological studies of wildlife adaptations to direct and indirect impacts of climate change throughout the southwestern United States, including the Great Basin. Additionally, funds will support hydrologic analyses of the Colorado River system and analyses of water policy to support decision-making by water managers and communities.

Communications bridge

The Climate Adaptation Science Centers in the U.S. serve as a bridge between scientists and managers and decision-makers, ensuring communication flows to benefit all parties. Research that meets the needs of practitioners and policymakers can address the challenges of managing natural resources, given the significant uncertainty and volatility driven by climate change.

“If communication runs from managers and scientists and vice versa, it’s more likely the research will meet their needs and be useful to decision-makers,” explained Fleishman. “Our hope is that information can be brought to bear to help meet desired outcomes.”

This type of communication also can result in significant benefits for a number of issues related to natural resources, including wildfire and water management.

“In the world of water in the West, it’s a zero-sum game in many respects,” said Udall. “Forecasting future conditions is becoming more and more difficult due to changes in climate, creating conditions we’ve never seen. Water managers rely on standard conditions, and those simply no longer exist.”

Informed management and policy

Udall also described the tendency for decision-makers to look to scientific consensus to inform management and policy.

“Consensus is far more difficult now because there’s no precedent for much of what we are seeing,” he added. “That’s why we need to continue to learn as much as we can about the coming changes.”

Martha Wohlfeil and Frank Fogarty take aerial photos of vegetation
Martha Wohlfeil and Ken Zillig take aerial photographs of vegetation in the Wassuk Range in western Nevada. Photo courtesy of Erica Fleishman, CEMML

The climate adaptation funds will create new opportunities for scientists in different disciplines to work together and foster creative solutions to problems that impact every aspect of people’s lives, said Fleishman.

“We’re hoping to engage a wide variety of scientists throughout CSU to take on different facets of natural systems and humans’ ability to adapt to the changes we’re facing,” she said.

Funds will also support science communication training for researchers and graduate students and opportunities for early career scientists to build their professional networks.

The Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center — formerly called the Southwest Climate Science Center — was established in 2011 to provide objective scientific information, tools and techniques that land, water, wildlife, cultural resource managers and others can apply to anticipate, monitor and adapt to climate change impacts in the southwestern United States, a region with a population of nearly 54 million.