Warming of the West
Western U.S. heating up twice as fast as global rate, new report says
The Associated Press, , March. 28, 2008
"The population built up rapidly and exploded. It takes out the mature trees," said Ingrid Aguayo, an entomologist for the Colorado State Forest Service, which estimates that about 60 percent of the lodgepole pines have turned red and brown.
"Now we're seeing a new carpet of forest coming up," she said.
Scientists can't be certain global warming is to blame, but the evidence is damning. Now, a new calculation of government temperature data shows that over the past five years, average annual temperatures in the Colorado River basin the heart of the West have risen by 2.2 degrees, or about twice as fast as the global rate.
The report is from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, a coalition of local governments, businesses and others working to protect the climate, and the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. It says the West is heating up faster than any other region in the continental
"It's already begun. We are already seeing the effects, and scientists are telling us it's going to get markedly worse," said Stephen Saunders, the organization's president in
Researchers hesitate on cause
Climate change researchers are hesitant to ascribe a single cause for the warming, but they agree it's happening.
"By and large, there is a very detectable warming in this region," said Martin Hoerling, a meteorologist at the NOAA-funded Earth System Research Laboratory in
The report, "Hotter and Drier: The West's Changed Climate," crunched numbers kept by NOAA's
"That sounds about right," said the center's acting director, Kelly T. Redmond.
"It's been warming in this region for the past 35 years, after a cool period in the 1970s. We've been decidedly above average. You could put an exclamation on it," he said.
At first, he said, "I didn't know whether to trust these numbers or not." They came from a network of about 2,000 thermometers across the West from airports to weather hobbyists' backyards recording lows and highs since the late 1800s.
But other recent patterns earlier snowmelt in spring, earlier lilac and honeysuckle blooms convinced
"In 100 years, this is the largest change we've seen, so it catches your attention," he said. "We can't definitely attribute it to human causes, but my suspicion is at least part of it is due to climate change."
The West also is in the grip of a decade-long drought, which tends to raise temperatures, said Hoerling, who likewise is hesitant to attribute the warming of the West solely on carbon emissions. He believes cyclical changes in sea-surface temperatures also are to blame.
The consequences, though, are plain to see. In
The glaciers at
Hottest on record
Powell and Mead reservoirs, meanwhile, are half-empty. The reservoirs collect water from the
The upper basin states have the water, but lower basin states including California have senior water rights a crisis in the making, said Bradley H. Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment Cooperative at the University of Colorado.
"There's an old saying, 'I'd rather be upstream with a shovel and a ditch that downstream with a decree,'" he said.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.