Mines-led study breaks down two major climate change impacts on snowmelt-dominated watersheds

GOLDEN, Colo., April 13, 2016 – As snowpack dominated regions like the Rocky Mountains warm in a changing climate, researchers are increasingly trying to understand what will happen to water supplies for downstream users. A National Science Foundation-funded study recently published in Environmental Research Letters by a Colorado School of Mines-led research team provides insight into how two probable climate impacts, a phase transition from snow towards rain and higher land surface temperatures to drive atmospheric demand, will uniquely affect water resources.

The study is based in the central Rocky Mountains on either side of the Continental Divide, at Pennsylvania Gulch, Breckenridge and the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. Using computer modeling, Mines researchers, along with colleagues from the University of Colorado and the University of Utah, ran simulations of hypothetical climate change scenarios with the goal of isolating the impact of phase transitions from the impact of more land surface energy.

“If we want to create reasonable recommendations and insights for water resource managers, we need to be able to separate [phase transitions and increasing land surface energy],” said Paul Brooks, professor of geology and director of the Utah Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Reed Maxwell, professor of hydrology and director of the Integrated Groundwater Modeling Center at Mines, said: “One of the main conclusions of this work was that the changes in energy, which result in changes in evapotranspiration, outweighed the changes in the form of precipitation.”

These findings will guide future modeling and field research of climate changes in mountain regions, especially in the Colorado Rockies.


Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3541 | kgilbert@mines.edu
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 | kmorton@mines.edu

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Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.