2020 marked the fifth hottest year on record in the United States and one of the most devastating wildfire seasons, with 58,950 blazes scorching more than 10 million acres and nearly 18,000 structures. With much of the state in a drought, Colorado experienced three of its largest-ever fires and one of its longest fire seasons. As temperatures rise again, CU Boulder researchers offer insight into everything from how a changing climate will impact water supplies, crops and landscapes to how best to protect our homes and health from fire and smoke.
It’s no secret: The air quality is bad in Colorado this summer. Learn about the easy and effective ways we can keep our indoor air clean from ozone, wildfire smoke and COVID-19.
In light of recent Colorado fires, floods and landslides, environmental experts Fernando Rosario-Ortiz and Ben Livneh discuss how fire may shape the future of water in the West.
With fires blazing across Colorado, California and Oregon, much of the Western United States is awash in smoke this summer. How does the smoke impact our health? Is it OK to exercise outdoors? What can we do to protect ourselves indoors? Colleen Reid has answers.
Hannah Brenkert-Smith studies the role of residents' choices in wildfire risk, working to improve mitigation programs. Her most recent work near Bailey, Colorado, concludes residents often overestimate their preparation and underestimate their risk.
So far, 2021 is one of the 10 wettest years on record since 1872 in the Denver area. Chelsea Nagy discusses what a wet spring and resulting plant growth in the Front Range could mean for the rest of the year.
The director of CU Boulder's Natural Hazards Center speaks from personal experience as an evacuee of the Calwood Fire when she warns others: “The time is now to make provisions for whatever risks you may face.”
Bark beetle outbreaks and wildfire alone are not a death sentence for Colorado’s beloved forests—but when combined, their toll may become more permanent, CU Boulder research shows.
A new study of 22 burn areas across 710 square miles found that forests are not recovering from fires as well as they used to, and many regions will be unsuitable for ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in the coming decades.
Drought & Extreme Heat Research
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 CU Boulder analysis of 40 years of data.
Research from CU Boulder and CIRES suggests that during the 21st century, our ability to predict drought using snow will literally melt away.
New grant supports interdisciplinary research on ‘the critical zone’ and the future of Western water
Three CU Boulder faculty are principal investigators on a new five-year, $6.9 million National Science Foundation grant to study the “critical zone”—from Earth’s bedrock to tree canopy top—in the American West.
Heat waves, which are projected to become more frequent and intense as the century progresses, could cause as much as 10 times more crop damage than is now projected, a team of researchers led by CU Boulder has found.
Associate Professor of Geography
Expertise: Fire ecology, land use/landcover change, global change ecology, tropical forest ecology
Associate Professor of Geography, fellow of INSTAAR
Expertise: PI on CU Boulder’s NSF-funded Western water grant, vegetation and water flow dynamics, hydrologic sciences, ecohydrology, forest hydrology, tree physiology
Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Western Water Assessment
Expertise: Snow in the western U.S. and climate change impacts on snow and water resources
Assistant Professor of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering; CIRES fellow; part of NOAA’s Drought Task Force
Expertise: Snowpack related to drought and seasonal water supply forecasts, affect of historical and projected future climate conditions on anticipated snowpack and streamflow
Research Associate at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR)
Expertise: Availability of freshwater in seasonally snow-covered mountains and forests, hydrology, climate change
Associate Professor of Geography, fellow at INSTAAR, head of INSTAAR’s Mountain Hydrology Group
Expertise: Snowpack conditions, how these conditions may change in the future with climate change and the impact of these changes on water availability, recreation and wildfire hazard
CIRES Program Manager/Research Scientist
Expertise: Human-ecosystem interactions, invasive grass species, altered fire regimes, biomass burning, fossil fuel combustion
Director of the Natural Hazards Center, Professor of Sociology
Expertise: Hazards and disaster mitigation, safety and preparedness; vulnerable populations in disaster; school safety guidance
CIRES Research Scientist
Expertise: Regional climate change, drought and weather extremes
Assistant Professor of Geography
Expertise: Climate change and human health, environmental and social epidemiology, spatial exposure assessment
Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; Director of the Environmental Engineering Program
Expertise: Impact of wildfires on water quality, environmental chemistry
Director of Earth Lab Analytics Hub
Expertise: Fire ecology, complex systems science, data science, image processing, information technologies
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography
Expertise: Forest ecology and vegetation dynamics in relation to natural and anthropogenic disturbances, especially climate variability; biogeography; conservation
CIRES Associate Director for Science, Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Expertise: Emissions of trace gases and particles to the atmosphere and how these emissions impact atmospheric composition, air quality and climate; effects of global change
CU faculty members share expert commentary on hot topics
Western Water Assessment
The Western Water Assessment (WWA) is a university-based applied research program that addresses societal vulnerabilities to climate variability and climate change, particularly those related to water resources. WWA is based in Boulder but works across the Intermountain West—Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The team is comprised of researchers in multiple disciplines—climatology, hydrology, ecology, social sciences, and law—at CU Boulder and several other institutions in the region.