University of WY receives grant to study climate change in state water supply – Sheridan Media

Kevin Koile – Sheridan Media

A five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University of Wyoming will allow researchers to work with Wyoming communities to address expected large and lasting changes in water availability .

Using fieldwork and high-performance computing, researchers will quantify how a changing climate in one of the country’s major headwater regions is likely to affect river flows, aquatic ecosystems and vegetation – as well as the communities and people who depend on them.

“This project has the unique goal of connecting high-performance, data-intensive computing to both environmental field research and the social sciences,” said UW President Ed Seidel. “It will establish a new capacity for innovation in Wyoming to address the ecological and socio-economic consequences of climate change on water supply. And it will make Wyoming a key player in climate change research and integrated modeling of the earth system.

The grant was announced today (Monday) through NSF’s EPSCoR (Program Established to Stimulate Competitive Research) program, which supports efforts to improve research, science and math education, and the workforce development. The award follows two other five-year, $20 million NSF grants to UW in 2012 and 2017 that spurred wide-ranging research on Wyoming’s water resources and microbes in the state’s landscapes.

The official name of the project is WY-ACT: Wyoming Anticipating Climate Transitions. It will include the creation of a regional Earth system modeling laboratory; the launch of a Center for Climate, Water and People; and investing in new capabilities centered on the UW-National Park Service (NPS) research station in Grand Teton National Park. Five new faculty positions will initially be funded by the federal grant.

The highly interdisciplinary project is being carried out cooperatively by five principal investigators already at UW: Brent Ewers, professor of botany and director of the Biodiversity Institute and Wyoming EPSCoR; Bart Geerts, professor of atmospheric sciences; Corrie Knapp, assistant professor at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; Bryan Shuman, professor of geology and geophysics; and David Williams, Professor of Botany.

“These highly accomplished faculty members are conducting research that will quantify the interactions between social and natural systems and their resilience to climate-induced disturbances in a critically important upstream region of the western United States” , says UW Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman. “Project activities and investments in essential and sustainable facilities and personnel will improve the competitiveness of Wyoming’s research and more effectively meet the needs of the people of Wyoming and the region.”

“The project’s broader impacts will enhance existing programs and innovate new approaches to education, workforce development, and new business ventures on the Wind River Indian Reservation and in rural areas of Wyoming that are vulnerable to climate-induced disruptions,” said Diana Hulme, UW’s acting vice president for research and economic development. “These results will be achieved by increasing entrepreneurship; workforce training in computer science and data science; undergraduate field research experiences; testing new approaches to higher education; improving communication using journalism; and directly involving K-12 educators.

The project will also expand research opportunities with state, regional and national partners – including the National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center near Cheyenne; the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, including Wyoming Community Colleges; the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation; WEST Inc., a Cheyenne-based company that provides environmental and statistical consulting services; and several state and federal agencies.

“This project provides a unique opportunity for future data scientists to work alongside leading researchers who are collaborating on real-world solutions to the state’s water supply challenges,” said Shay Howlin, chairman of the board. administration of WEST Inc. “It’s a great way to prepare young professionals in Wyoming for technical careers.”

A number of other UW units are also involved, including faculty from several departments in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Education, Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center. , the Advanced Research Computing Center, the Science Initiative, and the UW-NPS Research Station. The project promises to raise UW’s national profile and research competitiveness.

“An interdisciplinary research approach to understanding and solving these critical problems in Wyoming is of national importance because the framework of using high-resolution models based on processes of the biophysical environment and human interactions can be easily adapted to d ‘other places,’ says Parag Chitnis, UW’s incoming vice president for research and economic development.

timely research

Western North America and the Rocky Mountains – including Wyoming, where the three major river basins of the western United States converge – are experiencing historic drought conditions. Global warming, reflected for years in the decline of glaciers in the Wind River Mountains and the Tetons, is expected to lead to reduced winter snowpack, earlier snowmelt and a sharp drop in humidity. soil, flows and water storage. This increases the risk of mass forest mortality, forest fires and other ecological disturbances.

“Because these trends are projected to continue, water availability will become less certain and predictable, even though society’s water demand is likely to increase,” says Shuman, a professor of geology and geophysics who contributed to the recent climate assessment of Greater Yellowstone. “The rapidly unfolding changes have become the most significant and complex challenge facing people in the western United States, including Wyoming.”

“Wyoming is highly dependent on natural resources, and the impacts of climate change on water supplies – and associated changes in the functioning of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems – are likely to be felt across all sectors of society and Wyoming’s economy, affecting lifestyles and livelihoods in every community,” says Haub School faculty member Knapp, who will serve as the project’s first Center for Climate, Water, and people.”These include impacts on agriculture and tourism.”

WY-ACT aims to use data collection and computer modeling to simulate future impacts on the water supply of communities around the state, and then share that information with state and community leaders. Computer models will include climate data; watershed hydrology; terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and social and economic systems. Input from many stakeholders will be sought through community workshops, focus groups, interviews and other contacts to develop the models.

“The modeling will provide information about the impact of global warming we are experiencing now and in the coming decades on Wyoming’s water, ecosystems, and economic systems, while providing a tool to evaluate policy alternatives that can manage environmental and economic transitions,” says Geerts. , which will oversee the establishment of the Regional Earth System Modeling Laboratory.

Fieldwork and data collection is expected to take place in a variety of locations, including across the Continental Divide at Union Pass, Dinwoody Lakes and Lake of the Woods in the Wind Rivers; Jackson Lake and areas of Grand Teton National Park; Boysen Reservoir; and the New Fork Lakes and adjacent ranches in the upper Green River Basin. WY-ACT will collaborate with Central Wyoming College (CWC), whose Alpine Science Institute has studied the Dinwoody Glacier for several years, to expand backcountry research opportunities in this Wind Rivers region.

“Our approach to fieldwork and data collection is highly integrated; we will collaboratively observe how changes in water availability influence natural ecosystems and human behavior in the same places, and then use the integrated data and information to inform modelling,” says Williams, who will serve as lead project scientist. investigator. “Most importantly, we will make observations and collect data in close collaboration with stakeholders.”

The main collaborators of the project are the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, as their participation is crucial in developing research approaches and communicating results. The CWC and the tribes have been part of WY-ACT’s planning for the participation of tribal students and faculty, as well as capacity building with tribal programs.

“Water is sacred not only as part of our culture, but vital for sustenance, plants, animals, and survival,” says Tarissa Spoonhunter, associate professor of Native American studies at CWC. “Our holistic view of water and the effects of climate change is critical on the Wind River Reserve. As one of the major water holders in an Upstream State, being part of WY-ACT creates an opportunity for knowledge sharing and partnership.

Ewers, who leads the WY-ACT project management team, sees tremendous potential for the project to build state research capacity and benefit Wyoming communities.

“Our overarching goal is to build capacity to conduct research across the boundaries of climate science, hydrology, ecology, and social sciences – and to provide Wyoming communities and stakeholders with opportunities to collaborate with basic research and benefit more directly from the results,” Ewers said. “Our primary goal is to generate cross-sectional observations, datasets, and understanding that will support the adaptive capacity of communities and rural economies in Wyoming in the face of uncertain and rapidly changing climate conditions.”

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