The South Central U.S. encompasses a wide range of ecosystem types and precipitation patterns. Average annual precipitation is less than 10 inches in northwest New Mexico but can exceed 60 inches further east in Louisiana. Much of the region relies on warm-season convective precipitation – that is, highly localized brief but intense periods of rainfall that are common in the summer. This type of precipitation is a significant driver of climate and ecosystem function in the region, but it is also notoriously difficult to predict since it occurs at such small spatial and temporal scales. While global climate models are helpful for understanding and predicting large-scale precipitation trends, they often do not capture many of the smaller atmospheric and earth surface processes that influence local and regional precipitation trends, like convective precipitation.
To address this gap in climate modeling capabilities, researchers developed regional climate models that are better able to project small-scale precipitation patterns and localized extreme precipitation events. Researchers combined information about land surface and water conditions with weather and climate models in order to quantify the local-scale impacts of climate on water resources. This highly localized information will assist regional decision-makers in addressing the challenge of predicting precipitation in the South Central U.S., leading to a better understanding of potential future impacts on agriculture, fish and wildlife, water quality and availability, and cultural resources.
Led by the consortium of the South Central Climate Science Center (SC CSC), this project will develop and implement a professional development workshop for graduate students, post-docs, and early career researchers within the SC CSC region. The objectives are to: (1) introduce participants to the goals, structure, and unique research-related challenges of the SC-CSC and its place within the U.S. Department of the Interior and the larger CSC network, offering them insight into how their research fits into the broader research priority goals and its eventual applicability to end user needs across the region; (2) provide an opportunity for participants to present their research to fellow peers; (3) facilitate interdisciplinary interactions between participants within the SC-CSC purview in an effort to foster collaboration opportunities; and (4) generate a set of digitally recorded presentations on the SC-CSC enterprise, a “how to” guide for conducting similar workshops, and a collection of project outlines from small group discussions for internal use. The desire is to remove the institutional barriers, or “silos,” at an influential time of development for these early career professionals and to build a cohort who can continue networking through their research pathways and who can understand and eventually lead outcome-oriented, interdisciplinary research.
This work seeks to improve the ability to generate climate change information that can be used by planners, policymakers, scientists, or the public to study the impacts of climate change at the local level (e. g. a town or a small geographic region). Developing relationships between observed weather elements (such as temperature or precipitation) and projections produced by computer climate models is one of the most common ways to generate this information. However, such an approach assumes that relationships derived during the past will be valid in the future, after climate has changed. Using conventional wisdom, one would have to wait decades to determine to what extent this assumption is valid. This research uses a novel approach in which researchers substitute certain climate model projections for future “observations” to test this assumption. Current findings suggest that the assumption does hold reasonably well in many cases, but there are instances (for example particular geographical locations, such as coastal regions, and times of year, especially summer) when this assumption is not as robust. This research further explores under what conditions the assumption degrades, and develops ways to make the methods that generate local information about climate change more reliable.
Changing temperature and precipitation patterns in the South Central U.S are already having an impact on wildlife. Hotter and drier conditions are prompting some species to move in search of cooler conditions, while other species are moving into warmer areas that were once unsuitable for them. These changes in the distribution of wildlife populations present challenges for wildlife managers, hunters, tribal communities, and others who are making decisions about wildlife stewardship.
This project examined the effect of shifting climate conditions on 20 species of conservation concern in the South Central United States. These species, which include the black-tailed prairie dog and the lesser prairie-chicken, were selected according to several criteria, including their expected sensitivity to climatic change. Researchers examined where these species currently occur in order to better understand the environmental, especially climate, conditions necessary for their survival. Climate and land use change projections for 2050 and 2070 were used to assess the potential future distributions of conditions suitable for these species.
Maps evaluating patterns of loss of suitable conditions for the species were developed and incorporated into the publicly accessible New Mexico state-level CHAT (Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool). CHATs are being used by states across the western U.S. to facilitate conservation and project planning, and are useful to decision-makers at all levels of government. Therefore, incorporating information about the potential impact of climate and land use change on species distributions into this tool will ensure that this important information is accessible to managers.
The Red River Basin is a vital source of water in the South Central U.S., supporting ecosystems, drinking water, agriculture, tourism and recreation, and cultural ceremonies. Stretching from the High Plains of New Mexico eastward to the Mississippi River, the Red River Basin encompasses parts of five states – New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Further, 74% of the jurisdictional boundaries of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes are located within the basin.
Water resources in the basin have been stressed in recent years due to a multi-year drought and increasing demands for consumptive use by metropolitan areas in Oklahoma and Texas. Unfortunately, currently available projections of future precipitation across the region show a high degree of uncertainty, making it difficult for water managers to plan for the future.
The goal of this project is to provide resource managers with critical information on the impacts of climate change on flow in the Red River Basin. Researchers (1) used global climate models to make climate projections for the basin, and (2) developed models to determine the impacts of projected future climate conditions on stream flow. The modeling results can be used to evaluate future water supplies for water providers and flows for the environment.
The Red River Basin lies within the boundaries of three Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), and the results of this project will help the LCCs and other managers reduce the impacts of floods and droughts and make decisions regarding the potential need for additional reservoirs or diversions of water into the Red River Basin. The tools developed for this study can also be used to evaluate the impacts of different flow conditions on aquatic life or water quality in the basin.
The Sky Island forests of the southwestern United States are one of the most diverse temperate forest ecosystems in the world, providing key habitat for migrating and residential species alike. Black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and wild turkey are just a few of the species found in these isolated mountain ecosystems that rise out of the desert landscape. However, recent droughts have crippled these ecosystems, causing significant tree death. Climate predictions suggest that this region will only face hotter and drier conditions in the future, potentially stressing these ecosystems even further. Simple models predict that vegetation will move to cooler and wetter locations in response to this warming. However, species responses will likely be more complex than these models show, as vegetation navigates other ecological stressors such as elevation change and water availability.
In order to better predict how vegetation will move in response to future warming, a more robust understanding of how drought and temperature impact tree survival is needed. Focusing on three Sky Island habitats in western Texas, this project will identify the key traits influencing current distributions of forest tree species, determine the susceptibility of these species to drought and temperature, and develop fine-scale, localized climate projections that model future conditions for the study area. This information will then be used to predict how species might shift location in response to warmer and drier future climates, enabling managers to make more robust decisions that will preserve Sky Island forests in the face of a changing climate.
Currently, maintaining appropriate flows to support biological integrity is difficult for larger riverine ecosystems. Climate change, through increased temperature, reduced rainfall, and increased rainfall intensity, is expected to reduce water availability and exacerbate the maintenance of ecological flows in the Arkansas-Red River basin. Understanding the nexus among climate change effects on streamflow, water quality, and stream ecology for watersheds in the Arkansas-Red River Basin can be achieved using currently existing science and technology. This nexus approach will strengthen adaptive-management strategies that focus on shared ecosystem conservation watershed targets. This approach will provide natural-resource managers operating over a variety of spatial scales with measureable relationships between biology and flow while building modeling, monitoring, and statistical capacity to support restoration, conservation, and management goals.
Understanding the changes in the distribution and quantity of, and demand for, water resources in response to a changing climate is essential to planning for, and adapting to, future climatic conditions. In order to plan for future conditions and challenges, it is crucial that managers understand the limitations and uncertainties associated with the characterization of these changes when making management decisions. Changes in consumptive water use (water removed without return to a water resources system) will change streamflow, impacting downstream water users, their livelihoods, as well as aquatic ecosystems. Historical changes in available water may be attributed to changes in precipitation; but these changes may also be attributable to changes in consumptive use. Understanding the roles of natural and anthropogenic influences on the water cycle is an important component of this proposal. The objective of this project is to provide an automated methodology and data products that the public can view, work with, and download through ScienceBase to assess: the accuracy of available climate data and climate projections, the hydrologic effects of these drivers on runoff for historical and future conditions, and the role of consumptive water use on available water supply.
Coastal wetlands are one of the most economically valuable ecosystems in the world. In the United States, the ecosystem services provided by wetlands are worth billions of dollars and include flood protection, erosion control, seafood, water quality enhancement, carbon storage, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, these ecosystems are also highly sensitive to changing climate conditions. Past research on climate impacts to coastal wetlands have concentrated primarily on sea-level rise, largely ignoring the important influence of changing temperature and precipitation patterns. Understanding the impact of temperature and precipitation on coastal wetlands can help natural and cultural resource managers account for these factors when making decisions or developing adaptation plans.
This study advances understanding of how temperature and precipitation influence coastal wetland ecosystems. The study models the relationships between wetland plant community structure and climate in the northern Gulf of Mexico and identifies potential impacts of future climate conditions on these ecosystems. The researchers identify critical ecological thresholds and demonstrate that transformative ecological changes due to climatic shifts are probable throughout the Gulf of Mexico within this century. In certain areas, small changes in temperature or rainfall are expected to trigger large ecological changes and affect certain ecosystem services. Because coastal wetland ecosystems in other parts of the world are also sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, the findings of this research have global implications, helping to inform the management of these highly valuable ecosystems under a changing climate.