1:29pm

Tue April 23, 2013
Environment

You Ask, USGS Answers: Denver Has Questions On Climate Change

Confused about climate change? Well, The U.S. Geological Survey is taking on the task and answering your questions with their ‘Climate Connections’ video series.

All across the country, USGS scientists are fanning out to answer your questions. Recently scientists traveled to the 16th Street Mall in Denver to find out what Denverites had on their minds.

Questions from the Mall included:

How is Colorado affected by climate change?

If you live in Colorado, you most likely love to ski (or know someone who does.) Racking up days on the slopes is a winter pastime here in the Rocky Mountains. However, Darius Semmens a USGS research physical scientist says due to warming temperatures across the state our ski season will get shorter, and ‘less epic.’

According to Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists, Colorado has seen a rapid rise in temperature from 1970 to 2012.

While the past few weeks have brought feet of snow to Colorado’s high country, drought conditions still remain. That’s causing serious consequences for the state’s recreation and farming industries.

Those warmer temperatures could be caused by ozone and pollution. To study the interaction of ozone on thunderstorms, scientists from Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research sent airplanes packed with research equipment into stormy skies. Their goal was to measure the effects of climate change on thunderstorms over Colorado.

The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry experiment explored the influence thunderstorms have on air just beneath the stratosphere. Scientists believe pollutants sucked up in strong storms travel many miles into the Earth’s atmosphere contributing to global warming. Their research is aiding the development of more effective policies to reduce ground pollution that create ozone.

Were the wildfires this past summer related to climate change?

Debra Martin a USGS research scientist says it’s highly likely that increase temperatures have led to the increase in wildfires, along with other reasons. In some areas of the Rocky Mountains, the fire season is almost two months longer than it used to be. That’s not good for residents in Colorado’s red zones. According to an I-News investigation, one of every four Colorado homes is in a red zone - or areas most at risk for dangerous wildfires.

The High Park fire severely damaged earth and ground cover across Larimer County, and that’s increased fears of flash flooding and mudslides.

Last year’s fires and continuing drought have also hurt the state’s rafting industry. The industry trade group Colorado River Outfitters Association found that rafting trips decreased last year by 17 percent.

Do the bark beetles infesting trees have anything to do with climate change?

Jenny Briggs research ecologist with the USGS says the change in climate also has something to do with the Bark Beetle infestation that has devastated western states.

Warmer and drier climate patterns decrease the ability for trees to produce sap that helps in fighting back bark beetle attacks. In all, more than three million acres of Colorado Forests, including acres in Rocky Mountain National Park have been impacted since the first signs of an outbreak in 1996.

Park officials says their primary line of attack against the bark beetle is insecticides. But  with such widespread damage, park rangers are only able to focus on 5 percent of the park’s trees, or what officials call ‘high value trees’ –those that provide shade, or are part of the cultural of historical landscape.

An annual aerial survey of Colorado forest health shows while the mountain pine beetle epidemic is slowing dramatically, the spruce beetle outbreak is expanding.

Scientists attribute that growing epidemic to recent droughts and warmer winters.

How does the ocean change the climate, and vice versa?

USGS Research Ecologist Robert Stallard says oceans have a big role in controlling climate, since they have a large capacity to hold and release heat and moisture into the atmosphere. He says the Earth’s seas absorb one quarter of the carbon dioxide that’s released into the atmosphere by humans. And that climate change is affecting fishing across the globe as well as the oyster business in Washington state.

Oyster farmers began noticing problems in the mid-2000s when their larvae population started dying. The reason? An increase in ocean acidification.

To deal with the environmental changes, oyster farmers developed a monitoring system regulating the amount of acidic seawater allowed into hatcheries. But it doesn’t look like the situation will improve in the near future.  Scientists say acidified water being drudged up by ocean currents right now contains carbon dioxide gas from over 50 years ago. The prediction is the problem will only get bigger, with no viable solution on the horizon.