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High precipitation years won’t save trees from affects of #ClimateChange, study finds — The #Arizona Wildcat

Nearly every mature spruce tree has been killed by spruce beetle in this area of the Rio Grande National Forest in southwest Colorado. (Credit: U.S. Forest Service; photo: Brian Howell)

From the Univesity of Arizona Arizona Wildcat (Gabriella Cobian):

Matt Dannenberg, assistant professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa and lead author on the study, explained the research process.

“A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which intensifies our water cycle,” Dannenberg said in an email interview. “Based on precipitation data from 1901-present, year-to-year precipitation variability has increased quite substantially in many parts of the U.S., particularly in the Southwest.”

The purpose of the research was to find the effects of the rise in variability for the sake of American forests. To conduct the study, researchers used tree ring widths from over 1,300 sites throughout the U.S. to observe the linear and nonlinear forms of the correlation among precipitation and growth. Researchers also observed the tree growth response particularly to exceedingly dry and wet years.

Researchers found the growth of numerous tree types, such as ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and piñon pine located in the Southwest and bur oak located in the Midwest react more intensely to dry years compared to wet years. Drops in tree growth during drought are not entirely offset by rises in wet years.

This means rising precipitation variability may result in long-lasting growth declines, even if there’s no difference in regular precipitation.

Throughout the previous 100 years in the Southwest, it’s estimated about a two-fold rise in the probability of years with extremely little growth, yet no difference in probability of high growth.

Dannenberg thinks the next step as climate change persists is to comprehend the other aspects of climate change to manage forests. These aspects include warmer temperatures, increased carbon dioxide concentrations (which could possibly stimulate photosynthesis and/or water-use efficiency), reduced snowpack and changes in the lifecycles of forest pests. It’s still unclear how these changes will affect forests.

William Smith, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the UA and senior author of the study, provided insight on the study.

“We first worked with the long-term climate observations,” Smith said over email. “Using computer programming that allows us to quickly process large datasets, we explored how rainfall variability has changed over the last 100 years over the full U.S. region. We then worked with thousands of tree-ring records to determine whether or not trees exhibit any sensitivity to changes in precipitation variability.”

The study found that precipitation variability altered drastically through the southwest region, particular dominant tree species are vulnerable to these alterations.

According to Smith, the work integrated long-term climate records, model projections and a large synthesis of tree-ring observations.

Smith said he believed the next step is to incorporate satellite observations of tree, grassland and shrub growth to affirm the study’s original findings and to observe different sensitivities to changing precipitation extremes across these functional types. This can give insight on how these systems will shift with climate change.

More experiments are still being conducted, according to Smith.

“We are starting a large experimental manipulation in the Santa Rita Experimental Range so that we can experimental increase precipitation variability and then measure how the ecosystem changes,” Smith said in an email interview.

Smith advised more research to be conducted in order to prevent harmful results of climate change.

Branson: Good luck, creativity, and persistence = success for local water treatment

Entering Branson from the south. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

From The Colorado Sun (Kevin Simpson):

Faced with an inadequate filtration system and a $1.2 million estimate to fix it, the community of 55 people got creative. And it paid off.

For a while, it looked like tiny Branson, home to 55 souls in the southernmost part of the state, might almost literally dry up and blow away, becoming a footnote to history.

Not surprisingly in the arid West, water loomed as the culprit. Not that the town ever lacked abundance. Springs in the nearby hills quenched the locals’ thirst for generations. But when the state health department tightened groundwater safety regulations, then found Branson’s purification system out of compliance, the news threatened its very existence.

One engineering report put the cost of fixing the problem, which stemmed from E. coli detection and the determination that the spring water was subject to contamination by surface water, at $1.2 million. Even with loans to cover a new water system that would serve the existing 29 customers, the debt burden promised to crush Branson into the dust, even though locals note that no one has ever reported a water-borne illness.

So, just about a year later, how can the town be planning a celebration?

Last week, Branson learned that that it will receive a state grant that pushes its own unconventional efforts — including a crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds — over the finish line. Only a few bureaucratic hurdles remain before the town begins construction of a new filtration system it discovered through a company just a couple hours away in Rocky Ford. The new system will both satisfy health department standards for purity and cost a tiny fraction of the original estimate.

By embracing the narrative of the rural underdog and adopting an unrelenting bootstrap mentality, Branson found a way, starting last April when it created a web site and began its appeal for contributions from current and former area residents, as well as anyone sympathetic to the plight of diminishing rural towns.

And, as Mayor Rachel Snyder readily admits, a strong element of serendipity also figured into the equation.

The Colorado Department of Public Affairs grant used a point system to determine who would receive money, and Branson’s individual efforts and circumstances aligned to check off a lot of the boxes. Then there was the discovery of Jack Barker’s Innovative Water Technologies, the small company right up the highway that specializes in inexpensive but effective water purification systems, primarily for third-world countries.

Timing also played a significant role: If Branson had applied for the round of grant funding prior to Gov. Jared Polis taking office, it would have missed out on some significant additional savings.

It all added up to a stunning victory for the once-bustling railroad stop that has receded to a quiet outpost whose only bustling activity occurs in the four-day school that serves families in the wide-open rangeland tucked between picturesque mesas and the distant Spanish Peaks.