News | Research

INSTAAR research is featured in thousands of news stories and more than 10,000 social media posts per year. Outlets include the New York Times, Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, National Public Radio, and as well as more regional news outlets like High Country News, 9News, and the Denver Post. Selected highlights are listed below. Additional stories are noted @INSTAAR on Twitter.

Researcher works in a stable isotope lab that contains lots of blue and beige gas flasks

New analysis shows microbial sources fueling rise of atmospheric methane (NOAA Research News)

June 17, 2021

The sudden and sustained rise in atmospheric levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane since 2007 has posed one of the most significant and pressing questions in climate research: Where is it coming from? Now a research team has tested the leading theories for surging methane levels by analyzing the stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C-CH4) from methane captured in a large set of global air samples to determine if one of the theories is more feasible than the others.

Researchers study the fall tundra in the Colorado alpine

Longer growing season could transform the tundra (Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine)

June 11, 2021

Across the tundra, warming temperatures are causing plants to stay greener longer and flower earlier—and that could reshape life there, according to new research led by INSTAARs. The findings, published today in Nature Communications, synthesized 30 years of experimental warming data from 18 different tundra sites across the globe and found that not only are leaves coming out earlier and staying on the plants longer in this critically understudied biome, but their reproductive cycles are not responding in the same way. This change could not only have cascading effects through the ecosystem, but could also change the balance of carbon between the land and the atmosphere.

Cows in a muddy field

A mysterious rise in methane levels is sparking global warming fears (New Scientist)

May 21, 2021

In INSTAAR's Stable Isotope Lab lie rows of metal flasks holding clues to the cause of an alarming rise in a powerful greenhouse gas. They contain samples of air from around the world that Sylvia Michel‘s team of methane detectives analyse to reveal whether the gas came from burning fossil fuels and wood, or from wetlands and cow guts. Note that a subscription is required to read this article.

Tundra fires in Alaska

Blazes that refuse to die: ‘Zombie fires’ (New York Times)

May 20, 2021

With a changing climate, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout winter and erupt again in spring could become more common.

Forest fire burns the forest floor in Saskatchewan

“Zombie fires” detected in Alaska and Canada, set to increase as climate warms (Axios)

May 20, 2021

"Zombie fires" may sound like something straight out of science fiction, but they're a real phenomenon that is likely to become more common in the area ringing the Arctic, and possibly the Arctic itself, as climate change continues, a new study finds. Merritt Turetsky comments on the study and explains its context.

Dwarf birch growing in northern Qikiqtaaluuk, Baffin Island

Ancient plant DNA and pollen found under Baffin Island lake show a greener Arctic (ArcticToday)

April 8, 2021

The snowy landscape of the Arctic was greener more than 100,000 years ago and could get there again as the climate warms and plants migrate further north, new research suggests. Plant DNA taken from soil 10 meters below a lake near Clyde River shows dwarf birch shrubs used to grow up to the northernmost point of Baffin Island, according to research led by Sarah Crump, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The samples, more than 100,000 years old, were found in soil and were more intact than samples from permafrost, suggesting they may have remained unfrozen.

Industrial smokestack and clouds

Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020 (NOAA Research News)

April 7, 2021

Levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response, NOAA announced today. Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years. The article mentions the analyses done in INSTAAR's Stable Isotope Lab.

A sunny winter day in Rocky Mountain National Park with snow on the trees and mountains

Increased winter snowmelt threatens western water resources (CU Boulder Today)

April 5, 2021

More snow is melting during winter across the West, a concerning trend that could impact everything from ski conditions to fire danger and agriculture, according to a new CU Boulder analysis of 40 years of data, led by Keith Musselman.

Dwarf birch growing in northern Qikiqtaaluuk, Baffin Island

Arctic was once lush and green, could be again, new research shows (CU Boulder Today)

March 17, 2021

Imagine not a white, but a green Arctic, with woody shrubs as far north as the Canadian coast of the Arctic Ocean. This is what the northernmost region of North America looked like about 125,000 years ago, during the last interglacial period, finds new research from CU Boulder led by Sarah Crump. Researchers analyzed plant DNA more than 100,000 years old retrieved from lake sediment in the Arctic and found evidence of a past ecosystem. As the Arctic warms much faster than everywhere else on the planet in response to climate change, the findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may not only be a glimpse of the past but a snapshot of our potential future.

Underwater view of dolphins swimming near the surface, Mexico

Long-term emissions cuts are needed to slow ocean acidification (

Jan. 4, 2021

During the first half of 2020, global greenhouse gas emissions dropped by about nine percent in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. People around the world reported seeing signs that “nature was healing” as a result of a steep decline in human activities such as transportation and production. However, a new study from UC Boulder has shown that the positive changes seen in natural ecosystems were not reflected throughout Earth’s oceans.