USGS in the 21st Century: Climate science and new directions Silverton, CO

USGS in the 21st Century:
Climate science and new directions
Silverton, CO
June 9, 2008
Mark Myers, Director
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Humans become agents of
environmental change
Ecological equilibrium disturbed
Human-induced changes on a global scale
Approaching thresholds of ecosystems
Threats to earth resources
Night light produced largely from fossil fuels
An index of human power in the environment
The Human Effect
• Humans have already transformed 40-50% of the ice-free land surface on
• Humans now use 54% of the available fresh water on the globe.
• Humans now move far more sediment - mainly through agriculture and
construction activities - than the sum of all the natural processes operating
on the surface of the planet.
• Humans are now an order of magnitude more important at moving sediment
than the sum of all other natural processes operating on the surface of the
Water Quality and Availability
Water a limited resource, global issue
Diminished by
climate change
population growth
agricultural use
USGS Science Strategy Directions
Understanding Ecosystems and Predicting Ecosystem Change
Energy and Minerals for America’s Future
A National Hazards, Risk, and Resilience Assessment Program
The Role of Environment and Wildlife in Human Health
A Water Census of the United States
Climate Variability and Change
Data Integration and Beyond
Ecosystem Structure
Rock and
Ecosystem Mapping and Analysis
Understanding Earth Systems
All earth
earth resources
resources interrelated.
Climate change,
change, population
population growth
growth accelerate
difficulties, complexity
USGS science
science strategy
strategy based
based on
on systems
systems approach
USGS Strengths in Science, Monitoring, Information
History of climate change
science research and longterm monitoring
Multi-disciplinary capabilities
and scientific expertise
across the landscape
Capability to assess
prehistoric, historic and
current climate effects
Ability to integrate broad
arrays and types of
information for effective
John Wesley Powell,
Director, 1881-94
Key Research Issues with a Warmer West
• Seasonal streamflow
• Recharge variability & change
and species responses
• Fire and insect outbreaks
• Phenology
During the past 50 years, long-term winter-spring warming
trends have changed the West.
Cayan et al., 2001
Warming already has driven significant hydroclimatic changes.
Less snow/more rain
Less spring snowpack
Knowles et al.,2006
-2.2 std devs
LESS as snowfall
TRENDS (1950-97) in
April 1 snow-water content at
western snow courses
+1 std dev
MORE as snowfall
Mote, 2003
Spring-pulse dates
Earlier snowmelt runoff
Stewart et al., 2005
With mountain recharge at risk,
Groundwater inputs to upland streams at risk…
Recharge to basin aquifers across mountain fronts may also change.
Mountain aquifers
Basin aquifers
Model-Projected Changes in Annual Runoff, 2041-2060
Percentage change relative to 1900-1970 baseline. Any color indicates that >66% of models
agree on sign of change; diagonal hatching indicates >90% agreement.
(After Milly, P.C.D., K.A. Dunne, A.V. Vecchia, Global pattern of trends in streamflow and
water availability in a changing climate, Nature, 438, 347-350, 2005.)
Projections for Center
of Mass Timing
B1 scenario (+2.5°C)
~15 to 35 days earlier
by late 21st century
Courtesy of Mike Dettinger
Whitebark Pine Susceptibility to Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemics
High-elevations in western US
predicted to be continuously
warmer in future decades
Area of climate suitability
projected to increase at highest
And decrease at lower elevations
Hicke et al., JGR-Biogeosciences, 2006
Sylvan Pass, Yellowstone National Park, October 2004
Tree mortality rate
(% yr )
Long-term USGS research in the Sierra Nevada indicates
that in forests that otherwise appear to be healthy:
• Tree mortality rates have doubled
• This doubling parallels temperature-driven increases in drought
1985 1990 1995 2000
van Mantgem & Stephenson 2007
# Fires > 400 ha vs. temp
Changes in Wildfire and the Timing of Spring
in Western US Forests,
A.L. Westerling, H.G. Hidalgo, D.R. Cayan,
T.W. Swetnam. Science (2006)
R = 0.70
Spring index based on first leaf date for lilacs
Syringa vulgaris
(common lilac)
Syringa chinensis
(cloned lilac)
Schwartz and Reiter 2000
International. J. Climatology
Observed Changes in Wildlife at Gothic, CO
emerging 38
days earlier
than in 1977
Robins arriving 14 days earlier
Inouye et al., PNAS 2000
Stationarity is Dead
Stationarity - the concept and practice that natural systems fluctuate
within an unchanging envelope of variability
Rocky Mtn. Biological Laboratory
Photo courtesy of David Inouye
A National Climate Effects Network a proposal for a Systematic Application of Research Results
ƒ A truly integrated National climate effect monitoring network capable of
detecting and analyzing change at a range of temporal and spatial scales by
building on existing capabilities
ƒ A scientific team focused on early detection and scientific analysis in support
of adaptation or mitigation strategies
ƒ An information dissemination and decision support system for cost effective,
scientifically rigorous management and policy decisions
ƒ The capacity for the next generation to protect and sustain our National trust
resources through early detection of change
Living for the Future
Systems approach helps reveal nature of earth systems
Climate change is particularly evident in mountain environments
We are all at risk
Many near-term decisions will influence
the future health of the planet