Climate change is happening fast, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the Arctic. In order to understand what is happening there, scientists use data to create Global Climate Models, or GCMs, which they use to accurately predict future climate conditions.
Von Walden heads a team from University of Idaho, University of Colorado, University of Wisconsin, and University of Oklahoma that measures the atmosphere using lidar, radar, and other instruments that report on atmospheric properties like water vapor and temperature. Walden, who has done research in Antarctica and Canada, is currently studying the atmosphere over Greenland. GCMs are dependent on the information put into them. He says, “GCMs are our primary tool for looking into the future.” The team will be there 3 more years to gather information, but after that, Walden wants to send an instrument out onto Arctic sea ice.
Walden says sea ice is melting faster than anyone projected it would. Satellites are the main source of information about atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean, but satellites aren’t able to penetrate the tops of clouds or measure the cloud base; as a result, they can’t gather information that might improve the accuracy of GCMs. It is a project that could yield more information about how and why the Arctic is changing so rapidly.
Closer to home, climate change affects Idahoans more directly in the water that flows through the state. Walden, who is also involved with the climate research program for EPSCoR, the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is part of a team that studies the Snake and Salmon River basins. He says, “The main thing we are studying is water resources in a changing climate.”
The program hopes to add to the body of knowledge about how climate change alters water resources and how this may affect agriculture and economics in the state. The program has hired 10 new professors specializing in various aspects of climate at 3 Idaho universities, effectively doubling the state’s research capacity in climate studies. The scientists aim to study precipitation, snowmelt, and erosion, preparing for how the state’s water resources might shift as climate change continues in the coming decades. Walden says, “Water resources are really important to Idahoans and to our livelihood, not only for our economic growth and our high standard of living, but also for the overall ecological health of the state going forward.”