Scientists began trying to collect water data in the US West.

Federal scientists are beginning to try to better understand hydrology in the American West.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday announced a new type of climate observatory near the headwaters of the Colorado River that will help scientists better predict rainfall and snowfall in the western U.S. region.

A multi-million dollar effort led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will begin next week. The team has installed radar systems, balloons, cameras and other equipment in an area of ​​Colorado where most of the water in the river flows like ice. More than 40 million people depend on the Colorado River.

Alejandro Flores, an associate professor of hydrology at Boys State University, said it is difficult to model the weather in mountainous areas and the observatory will be a “game changer”.

“We have to think about the earth and the environment as an interconnected system,” he told reporters in a call. “So far, there is a lack of observations that help us understand this important interface.”

Scientists will use the observatory to collect data on rain, wind, clouds, small particles, moisture, soil moisture and more. Along with a better understanding of hydrology, they hope to learn more about how forest fires, forest management, droughts and tree-killing insects, for example, play a role in water availability. Are

Ken Williams, a researcher at the site and a Berkeley Lab scientist, said there was a big problem in predicting water supplies in the West. “The monsoon season has been very heavy in the southwest for the last two years, which means that when it rains, more melting snow penetrates the ground before it can reach rivers and streams,” he said.

Meteorologists said in a separate briefing Tuesday that parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico have seen impressive rainfall so far this monsoon season, with Tucson recording its highest July record. University of Arizona professor Mike Kermans called it a “wonderful upheaval” for the desert city.

Some parts of the southwest have seen four times their normal rainfall levels. But Kermans noted that other places, such as Al Burke, New Mexico, are either average or lagging behind.

“We have both really wet conditions for the short term, but we still have a long-term drought because we have these long-term deficits that we can’t solve with just one or two or three months of rain. ” Said.

To reverse long-term trends, the region will need to see successive wet winters and summers that are difficult to come by, Kermans said.

The New Climate Observatory, called the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory, brings together federal scientists, university researchers and others on a previous effort to study the Upper Gensen River Basin in Colorado, which runs along the Rocky Mountains. Shares features.

For the Rio Grande Basin, Williams said, the data could help water managers resolve water sharing agreements between Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. It can also help improve the weather forecast.

The scientists said the data would be available to other researchers and would provide a standard for any collection beyond the two-year plan.


Associated Press author Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


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