CU Boulder Partnering with USGS to Host Center on Climate Change

October 27, 2018 GMT

A University of Colorado team has been chosen by the U.S. Geological Survey to host the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center for the next five years as one of eight national hubs for the study of the changing needs of land and resource managers across the country.

The center, which will serve Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, is intended to promote innovation and applied research, according to Jennifer Balch, who has the role of university director in the partnership with USGS.

Balch, an assistant professor of geography at CU and a director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Atmospheric Sciences Earth Lab, said the $4.5 million award recognizes the great potential for synergy represented by existing campus programs and expertise.

USGS funds will allow CU researchers and a consortium of partner institutions to bring state-of-the-art analysis tools to bear on climate-related challenges facing natural resource management agencies. Those include how to manage a species habitat in a changing environment, how to protect tribal lands resources in a changing climate and how to manage resource for resiliency in the face of extreme events.


“A couple of examples of what we’ll be working on include helping to understand how wildfires have changed, as a function of climate change, and how that will impact our environment and the species we care about, from national parks to the greater sage grouse,” Balch said.

Areas of focus will additionally include “understanding drought and extreme drought events so that we can help guide grazing decisions on public lands and support sustainable research,” she said. “Also, helping national park managers get the climate science they need to better preserve the parks that we love. Those are a couple examples.”

Balch said the program also will be building a “tribal climate leaders” program at CU to support the graduate student work of Native American students, “so that hopefully, we can help them be the people who generate the science needed for their own tribal decisions on tribal lands.

“Ultimately this is all building on a concept that will advance the university’s core mission to engage in a real-world problem, breaking out of the ivory tower model and pushing research frontiers and serving the public good at the same time,” she said.

The center will leverage the resources of a consortium of partners that includes the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation Science Partners, South Dakota State University and the University of Montana.

“The partnership established by CU-Boulder has significant strengths, capabilities, and experience that can and will be directed at regional users’ needs,” the center’s USGS director Robin O’Malley said in an email.


“The approach of having academic and other partners is a way for USGS to expand the capabilities it can bring to bear on issues critical to its management partners. The CU team — which has multiple academic institutions, science and conservation non-profits, and tribal engagement — is a great example of the kind of skills and experience needed to meet managers’ science needs in the region.”

O’Malley said the initiative was originally funded by Congress in 2008, and that the challenges posed by climate change have only grown, since that time.

“As the climate and natural ecosystems change, now and even more in the future, resource managers will face greater challenges in adapting their resources to those changes,” O’Malley said.

“The questions posed to us are changing as well — in the early days we heard a lot of requests to better understand what climate change might mean for specific places and resources. More recently, partners have begun to turn their attention to the response — what can be done to help natural resources and lands adapt to these changes?”

Balch said that although CU’s selection to host the initiative’s regional center was only announced this week, its official start date was Oct. 1. However, with the nationwide network having been up and running since 2011, she sees a firm foundation on which to build over the next five years.

“Five years is actually a very good chunk of time,” she said, “to take a read on what do we know, synthesize the science we already have and translate it and make better use of it for real world environments around the land we love, the game that we hunt, the fish that we catch — not only for our own use but for generations to come and those who are going to want to use these resources.”

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