Scripps Joins Consortium to Study Southwest Climate


Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego will join five other institutions in a consortium formed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to study regional climate issues.

The Southwest Climate Alliance is the fourth of eight planned regional Climate Science Centers to be established by DOI. With the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson as home base, the center will include University of California, Davis; University of California, Los Angeles; Desert Research Institute, Reno; University of Colorado, Boulder; and Scripps Oceanography.

"The consortium brings together key strengths in climatology, hydrology, ecology, social science

and, in general, a tradition of science directly engaged in society," said Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at Scripps and a co-principal investigator in the climate science center. "Our alliance will generate interdisciplinary research that DOI and other regional stakeholders need for informed management of natural and cultural resources in the Southwest."

A $3.1 million, five-year grant, has been awarded to initiate the center. It is anticipated that the total funding for the Southwest center will be substantially more as it ramps up in the near future.

"The southwest is a bull's-eye for climate change in the United States, and the impacts of this climate change are already clear," said the center's lead researcher and principal investigator Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences and co-director of the UA's Institute of the Environment. "The goal of the center is to help our region deal with climate change due to both natural and human causes."

Researchers say signs of climate change in the region are prevalent: rising temperatures, earlier snowmelt, northward-shifting winter storms, increasing precipitation intensity and flooding, record-setting drought, plummeting Colorado River reservoir storage, widespread vegetation mortality, wildlife declines, and more large wildfires.

Combining and applying knowledge on all the intertwined issues is crucial for understanding and managing the effects of climate change on America's land, water, wildlife, cultural heritage, and other resources, Overpeck said.

"After extensive discussions among our universities, we unanimously agreed that this challenge is simply too large, too deep, and too complex for any single institution to provide region-wide expertise on all critical levels," Overpeck said, referring to the consortium approach to meeting the needs of the Southwest. "We need to bring the best and brightest to the table from across our region."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the creation of the center on Oct. 20. The Department of the Interior also selected the Colorado River Basin for the launch of the first U.S. water census- named the Colorado River Basin Geographic Focus Study- since 1978. 

"The Colorado River Basin is ground zero for assessing the effects of climate change on our rivers and taking creative management actions to head off the related dangers posed to our water supplies, hydroelectric power generation, and ecosystems," Salazar said.  "We are with you for the long haul to protect our region and its water."

In addition to the six host institutions, the Southwest Climate Alliance also includes the following as partners: Arizona State University; Northern Arizona University; University of California, Merced; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; NASA Ames Research Center, Calif.; and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, Tucson.

"Our effort will link with related research activities at Scripps and other partner institutions to improve the overall impact of objective scientific inquiry on enlightened resource management in these very interesting times we live in, and hopefully beyond," Gershunov said.

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