Los Alamos scientists are looking at how climate-driven impacts such as drought, wildfire, and insect outbreaks will affect ecosystems and regional water supplies. Halfway through a three-year, $3 million project, the team’s research already shows that climate-driven disturbances could reduce annual flows in parts of the Colorado River Basin by 20 percent.
There’s plenty more to learn about insect infestations and disease in the Sandia Mountains – and also about what local fire departments, communities, and agency officials are doing to address wildfire threats to places like Tijeras and Cedar Crest.
People across the state and beyond our boundaries are studying everything from impacts on wildlife species to dropping aquifer levels. But there’s no one clearinghouse for all this information. This map is a step toward trying to collect that information – and presenting it to the public in a way that’s easy-to-use and relevant to peoples’ communities.
As the region continues warming, New Mexico’s forest managers are facing a suite of challenges, ranging from wildfires and flooding to insect outbreaks, disease, and large-scale tree dieoffs. There are ways to deal with some of the problems. But the clock is ticking.
Scientists now say earlier forest mortality estimates were too low—and project that by 2100, pine-juniper forests in the southwestern U.S. will have disappeared and more than half the evergreen trees in the northern hemisphere will have died.
Drought-stressed trees are vulnerable to insect outbreaks. As the trees die, they provide fuel for wildfires. And while big fires haven’t ravaged the Sandia district of the Cibola National Forest, thousands of acres of dead conifer trees pose a hazard.
Nationally, more than ten percent of the U.S. population lives within areas abutting forests and undeveloped wildlands—and developments are increasing all the time, despite the risks from wildfires.
Scientists can describe intensifying wildfires, droughts, disappearing glaciers, the extinction of species and rising sea levels. They can predict and model. But data points and scientific graphs don’t inspire people to change their behavior. That takes faith, says Lutheran lay theologian Larry Rasmussen. And love. Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘On Care for Our Common Home,’ Rasmussen believes action within religious organizations is finally reaching critical mass.
Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck says delegates in Paris hit a “major milestone in human history.” But “the devil is in the implementation.”
Drought is not unusual in New Mexico. But unlike in the past, when changes in long-term, large-scale precipitation patterns drove drought in the Southwest, changes in temperature will drive drought in the future.