Research in our lab group is interdisciplinary, but united by a desire to understand how climate change is altering water in the western U.S. and beyond. We also aim to move beyond climate change impacts into understanding the role water plays in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Our methods are primarily computational, using physically-based modeling and data science approaches to advance these research areas.
Snow in the western U.S.
Climate change is rapidly altering snowpack magnitude and timing across much of the western U.S., with critical implications for water resources and ecosystems. Work in our lab uses data science and physically based modeling to answer questions like:
- How are snow drifts changing?
- How are interannual variability and the frequency of multi-year snow droughts changing?
- How might changing precipitation intensity mitigate or exacerbate the effects of warming on winter snowmelt?
Ecohydrology in discontinuous permafrost
Increasing fire frequency in Alaska has the potential to alter hydrology and vegetation successional dynamics, with potential for changes to carbon source/sink dynamics. Changes to soil moisture and hydrology are a major component of this feedback system. Working with a larger team of collaborators, we model hydrologic dynamics in boreal regions with discontinuous permafrost. Major outcomes of this work have focused on advancing our understanding of how well our models work and why, with applications to other modeling systems. Specifically, we’ve developed:
Hydropower in the energy system
While water resources are affected by climate change, water also feeds back into the climate system, with the potential to reduce or exacerbate warming. One of these feedbacks occurs through hydropower: hydropower is a low-emissions energy source that may be increasingly valuable in grids with large amounts of renewables, but it has very serious physical, social, and ecological constraints. Our work in this area aims to understand both the opportunities and limitations for hydropower in a warming world with a decarbonizing grid. Publications in this area have addressd:
- important knowns and unknowns about water use for energy in a world where both the water and energy systems are non-stationary
- impacts of interannual variability in snowfall on the timing of hydropower production and its synchrony with solar power
Selected Media Coverage
- Hydropower is 53% of the renewable energy supply in the West. Drought is slowing down production. Colorado Sun. 2022.
- ‘Snow droughts’ are coming for the American West. National Geographic. 2019.
- Climate change will mean more multiyear snow droughts in the West. The Conversation. 2019.
Consecutive Years Of ‘Snow Drought’ May Become More Common In The West. Boise State Public Radio. 2019.