Examining Soil and Drought Dynamics to Improve Fire Forecasting in the southern Great Plains

Funding Amount and Duration:

$154,078 from September 7, 2014 - September 6, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

John Zak, Texas Tech University

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Natasja van Gestel, Texas Tech University
  • Renee McPherson, University of Oklahoma
  • Todd Lindley, Brad Illston, Oklahoma Climatological Survey
  • Cotton Incorporated

About:

Publication: Horizontal and vertical variability of observed soil temperatures

The need to improve fire weather predictions for the southern Great Plains has grown in recent years, following a number of extreme fire events. While on-the-ground conditions that promote fire development in the region are still not well understood, research suggests that fire-friendly conditions are determined by more than just precipitation amounts or wind speeds. They are also influenced by soil characteristics such as moisture content, temperature, and human use. Therefore, fire weather forecast predictions could be improved by developing a better understanding of the relationship between soil characteristics and fire occurrence.

With a hotter and drier future unfolding in the southern Great Plains, the time is now to consider how soil moisture dynamics are expected to change and what influence, if any, this will have on fire potential. This project will fine-tune fire weather forecast predictions using soil temperature and soil moisture for a variety of managed and unmanaged systems in West Texas and Oklahoma. Accounting for these conditions will improve our understanding of what regions and time periods are and will be favorable to fire conditions. This information will give managers a more complete picture of fire risk, thus helping to inform fire prevention, crop production, and conservation decisions across the region.

Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S.

Funding Amount and Duration:

$184,945 from September 2, 2014 - September 1, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Mark Shafer, Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP)

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Steven Quiring, Texas A&M University
  • Chad McNutt, National Integrated Drought Information System
  • Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center

About:

Report: A Summary of How Counties and Parishes Use Drought Information in the South Central United States

Webinar: Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S.

The South Central U.S. is one of the main agricultural regions in North America: annual agricultural production is valued at more than $44 billion dollars. However, as climate conditions change, the region is experiencing more frequent and severe droughts, with significant impacts on agriculture and broader consequences for land management. For example, in 2011 drought caused an estimated $7.6 billion in agricultural losses in Texas and an additional $1.6 billion in Oklahoma. Although there are many drought monitoring tools available, most of these tools were developed without input from the stakeholders, such as farmers and ranchers, who are intended to use them.

The goal of this project is to assess the information needs of farmers, ranchers, and local land managers in the South Central region and to develop drought monitoring tools that are effective and responsive to their needs. The results of this project will be directly and immediately applicable to land management decisions in the region. Further, this approach to improving drought monitoring could be applied to other regions of the country facing similar challenges. Finally, in addition to advancing our knowledge of how drought information is used, this project will also contribute to our understanding of how private land owners and agronomists make decisions related to landscape-scale change.

Community Resilience to Drought Hazard: An Analysis of Drought Exposure, Impacts, and Adaptation in the South Central U.S.

Funding Amount and Duration:

$254,485 from August 12, 2014 - August 11, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Nina Lam, Louisiana State University

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Margaret Reams, LSU
  • Robert Rohli, LSU

About:

Final Report

Publication: Drought indices as drought predictors in the south-central USA

The threat of droughts and their associated impacts on the landscape and human communities has long been recognized in the United States, especially in high risk areas such as the South Central region. There is ample literature on the effects of long-term climate change and short-term climate variability on the occurrence of droughts. However, it is unclear whether this information meets the needs of relevant stakeholders and actually contributes to reducing the vulnerability or increasing the resilience of communities to droughts. For example, are the methods used to characterize the severity of drought – known as drought indices – effective tools for predicting the actual damage felt by communities?

As droughts continue to increase in frequency and severity, the need to understand community vulnerability and resilience to drought is only growing. Focusing on New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, this study sought to answer several key questions. First, researchers examined whether existing drought indices are effective in predicting the occurrence of drought events and their actual damages. Second, researchers explored why some communities suffer less damage from drought and recover faster than others. Finally, researchers identified strategies for encouraging the adoption of water conservation behaviors among residents. So far, results show that drought indices are overall useful tools for predicting drought damage and that a community’s resilience to drought is often tied to socioeconomic conditions.

This research was conducted in partnership with two Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. In addition to gaining the scientific knowledge of the linkages between drought indices, damages, and community resilience, this research (1) developed tools to measure drought resilience, (2) identified key indicators of resilience, (3) identified the gaps between drought indices and actual damages, and (4) identified the factors that influence residents’ decisions to adopt adaptive measures.

Identifying Tribal Vulnerabilities and Supporting Planning for Extreme Weather Events

Funding Amount and Duration:

$21,466 from August 1, 2014 - July 31, 2015

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Dawn Jourdan, Texas A&M University College of Architecture

Cooperators & Partners:

  • John Harris (Co-PI), University of Oklahoma Division of Regional and City Planning
  • Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC) at Texas A&M University
  • Chickasaw Nation

About:

Download Final Report

Climate change is poised to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – such as tornadoes, flooding, drought, and snowstorms – which may damage buildings and other structures, cause economic hardship, disrupt plant and wildlife communities, and endanger people’s physical and emotional health.

The purpose of this project was to enhance the knowledge of local tribal environmental professionals in Oklahoma related to planning for extreme weather events as a result of climate change. Researchers hosted a one-day workshop at the University of Oklahoma (OU) that was attended by professionals representing at least five tribes, as well as interdisciplinary scholars and students engaged in climate change research. Participants were provided with background information on climate change, led through a simple process for identifying their community’s vulnerabilities, and pointed toward data sources available to support planning efforts.

This workshop was a vital part of increasing local tribes’ knowledge regarding planning for climate change. In addition, Division of Regional and City Planning faculty and students were introduced to tribal communities’ planning needs related to climate change. The workshop was used to leverage funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for OU’s Planning Division to work with five tribes (Citizen Potawatomie Nation, Kaw Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Fort Sill Apache Nation, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes) interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on their communities and lands.

Understanding Future Fire Frequency and Impacts on Species Distribution in the South Central U.S.

Funding Amount and Duration:

$162,592 from July 1, 2014 - December 31, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Principal Investigators:

Ester Stroh, USGS, Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC)

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Michael Stambaugh, University of Missouri
  • Richard Guyette, University of Missouri
  • Matthew Struckhoff, USGS, CERC

About:

Fire is critical to maintaining and restoring temperate ecosystems in the South Central U.S. As precipitation patterns and temperatures change in the region, managers require information on how these changes will impact fire frequency, and thus the species and ecosystems within the landscape.

To address this need, researchers will use climate model data to predict and map future changes in fire frequency for Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Researchers will then examine species and ecosystem distribution data to understand the relationship between climate, fire frequency, and species occurrence. This analysis will enable researchers to identify potential future distributions of woody ecosystems and species such as mesquite and eastern red cedar.

The results of this project will help resource managers understand where on the landscape they can expect more frequent and less frequent fires due to changes in climate, and which areas may transition toward other ecosystem types as a result of these changing conditions. Information gathered from this project will assist planning for activities such as fuels management and prescribed fire over the long term.

Science to Address Future Conservation Practices for the Mississippi River Basin

Funding Amount and Duration:

$154,060 from May 28, 2014 - May 28, 2016

Funding Source:

US Geological Survey

Funded Jointly with the Northeast Climate Science Center

Principal Investigators:

Jack Waide, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Cooperators & Partners:

  • Jason Rohweder & Timothy Fox, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
  • Linda Prokopy, Purdue University
  • Meghna Babbar-Sebens, Oregon State University
  • Gwen White, Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers LCC

About:

USFWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) throughout the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) have identified high nutrient runoff, a major contributor to Gulf hypoxia, and declines in wildlife populations (especially grassland and riparian birds), as conservation challenges requiring collaborative action. This project will develop a spatial decision support system (DSS) to address these issues. The DSS will be designed to identify MRB watersheds where application of conservation practices can (1) reduce nutrient export to the Gulf hypoxia zone and (2) enhance conservation for grassland and riparian birds, based on (3) identifying landowners willing and capable of implementing these practices. The DSS will identify appropriate conservation practices to be implemented, and quantify resulting benefits for both nutrient export and bird habitat. The DSS will also enable analyses of whether landowner willingness to implement desired practices is affected by perceptions of climate extremes. This project has support and includes contributions from LCCs and agencies throughout the MRB, including federal and state resource management agencies and universities. The project, a pilot for a larger future effort, seeks to move current conservation approaches to a more strategic level, by identifying where to locate projects in critical watersheds for the greatest overall conservation benefit.