Much of the western U.S. remains in the grip of an unrelenting drought. This dryness has coincided with record-breaking wildfires, intense and long-lasting heat waves, and western reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell now at their lowest levels ever recorded.
Following 2020 and 2021—the fifth and fourth hottest years on record in the United States respectively—2022 is on track to become one of the 10 hottest years worldwide. The western U.S. has also seen some of its most devastating wildfires in the past three years, including the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30, 2021, the most destructive fire in Colorado state history.
CU Boulder researchers offer insight into everything from how a changing climate will impact water supplies, crops and landscapes to how best to protect homes and our health from fire and smoke.
Six grants and one sponsorship have been awarded by the Office for Outreach and Engagement to support community-engaged scholarship connected to the Marshall Fire. The grants are in partnership with the Research & Innovation Office and the Natural Hazards Center.
The CIRES Earth Lab has confirmed a palpable change in fire dynamics already suspected by many: Large fires have not only become more common, they are also spreading into new areas, impacting land that previously did not burn.
Forest fires can have a significant long-term effect on the amount of water flowing in nearby rivers and streams. With forest fires on the rise in the western U.S., that phenomenon is increasingly influencing the region’s water supply as well as the risk for flooding and landslides.
Historically, night is the critical time for slowing a speeding fire, and nature's wildfire brakes are failing. According to CIRES Earth Lab research, nighttime fires have become more intense, as hot, dry nights are more commonplace.
Just after first responders extinguished the flames of the Marshall Fire, a team of engineers from across the country hit the ground in an urgent effort: to collect data on the disaster before it disappears for good.
CU Boulder researchers from across campus have pivoted to study the aftermath of the Marshall Fire, hoping to learn from a tragedy in their own backyard and help prepare the country for the next “climate fire.”
Survivors may face what sociologist Lori Peek calls "the long tail of disaster-related trauma." She argues these survivors need mental health resources and support from friends and family long after the television cameras are gone.
In the Marshall Fire, approximately 155 homes of CU Boulder community members were damaged or destroyed. A dozen CU police officers helped evacuate the area. Tens of thousands of dollars went into the faculty, staff and student emergency funds. Learn about the impacts—by the numbers.
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.
Researchers have been awarded $1.1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for two projects to help school districts and communities reduce exposure to harmful pollution from wildland fire smoke.
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.
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
A new report from CU Boulder and Colorado State University outlines how a variety of emerging technologies can help water managers, landowners and policymakers improve western water management in the face of severe, ongoing drought.
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.
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.