Scientists launch effort to collect water data in western US

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FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (AP) – The US Department of Energy on Tuesday announced a new type of climate observatory near springs on the Colorado River that will help scientists better predict rain and snowfall in western states -United and to determine what will be the quantity. across the region.

The multi-million dollar effort led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will launch next week. The team installed radar systems, balloons, cameras and other equipment in an area of ​​Colorado where much of the river’s water comes from snow. More than 40 million people depend on the Colorado River.

Alejandro Flores, associate professor of hydrology at Boise State University, said weather in mountainous areas was notoriously difficult to model and the observatory would “be a game-changer.”

“We have to think of the earth and the atmosphere as a linked system that interacts with each other,” he said on a call with reporters. “So far, there has been a lack of observations that help us understand this critical interface.”

The West is in the midst of a mega-drought of more than 20 years whose studies are linked to man-made climate change. That, along with increased demand on the Colorado River, led to the very first declaration of a shortage in August, and there is a growing threat of deeper and more extensive water cuts. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will not get their full river water allocations next year.

Scientists will use the observatory to collect data on precipitation, wind, clouds, tiny particles, humidity, soil moisture and other things. In addition to a better understanding of hydrology, they hope to learn more about how wildfires, forest management, drought, and tree-killing insects, for example, play a role in uptime. some water.

A big problem in forecasting water supply in the West is focusing on soil moisture and content, said Ken Williams, principal on-site researcher and scientist at the Berkeley Lab. Monsoon season has largely been missed in the southwest over the past two years, which means more slush soaks through the ground before reaching streams and rivers when it rains, did he declare.

Climate experts said in a separate briefing Tuesday that southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico have seen impressive rainfall so far this monsoon season, with Tucson marking its wettest July never recorded. Mike Crimmins, a professor at the University of Arizona, called this an “incredible reversal” for the desert city.

Parts of the southwest have seen up to four times their normal precipitation levels. But Crimmins noted that other places like Albuquerque, New Mexico are either at average levels or still lagging behind.

“We both have very wet conditions in the short term, but we also have a long term drought that persists because we have these long term deficits that we cannot fix with just one, two or even three months of. precipitation, ”he said. noted.

To reverse long-term trends, the region would need to experience back-to-back wet winters and summers that are hard to find, Crimmins said.

The new climate observatory, called Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory, brings together federal scientists, university researchers and others to build on an earlier effort to study part of Colorado’s upper Gunnison River basin that shares characteristics with the Rocky Mountains.

For the Rio Grande Basin, the data could help water managers juggle long-standing water-sharing agreements between Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, Williams said. It could also help improve weather forecasting and experiments to alter the weather, such as cloud seeding to produce more precipitation.

The data will be available to other researchers and will provide a baseline for any collection beyond the two-year project, the scientists said.

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Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.


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