SILVERTON – Last week, high at the alpine headwaters of the Animas River, the hot topic was climate change and its effects on western mountain watersheds and ecosystems. Over 120 scientists, students, managers, policymakers, and other professionals from the U.S., Canada and South and Central America gathered in Silverton for the 2008 Mountain Climate Research Conference, hosted by the Mountain Studies Institute.
The conference, MTNCLIM for short, is held every two years in various western mountain regions to discuss mountain climate science and how changing climate affects ecosystems, natural resources and conservation. It is sponsored by the Consortium for Integrated Climate Research on Western Mountains.
Conference co-chair Connie Millar, a researcher at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station in Albany, Calif., was instrumental in bringing the conference to Silverton, calling the town a “perfect place for the conference.”
“With the Mountain Studies Institute and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies based in Silverton, the town is gaining a reputation in the scientific community,” she said.
In addition to hosting MTNCLIM, MSI offered seminars at the beginning and end of the conference that were free and open to the public. “Our seminars offered a snapshot of climate research in this region and strategies to adapt to the changes occurring in the mountain West,” said MSI Executive Director Koren Nydick, Ph.D. In conjunction with Silverton’s Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, MSI offered a “walk and talk” tour on Red Mountain Pass, where participants visited the lower Senator Beck Basin stream-gauging station as well as the Swamp Angel Snow Study Plot, discussing mountain and snow-system research and monitoring climate change.
Nydick said that “much of the research done at MSI is affected by rising temperatures,” which in turn lead to increased evaporation; drier, more fire-prone conditions; increased pest infestations; water rights issues; and compromised air quality due to higher ground-level ozone.
MSI will have further discussions, seminars and field trips throughout the summer that relate to these topics and others. On June 19, MSI offered a discussion on air quality at upper elevations, addressing the issue of increased mercury and ozone in the air. “Most air quality research is done at low elevations. We are monitoring the effect in the high country,” said Nydick. To that end, last winter MSI set up the first high-elevation collection site to record mercury levels in snowfall.
This Thursday, June 26, MSI will offer a seminar discussing desert dust in mountain soil. Corey Lawrence, from the University of Colorado – Boulder, will discuss the significant amount of wind-deposited dust found in San Juan soils and its impacts on mountain ecosystems. The discussion takes place from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at Silverton Town Hall.
Later in the summer, MSI seminars will cover topics ranging from the clean up of abandoned mines to trail building, rock glaciers and aquatic insects in local streams. A July 17 workshop will cover the assessment and restoration of fen wetlands. MSI’s complete schedule can be found on their website at www.mountainstudies.org.
According to MSI, mountain ecosystems occupy approximately one-fifth of the world’s land surface, supplying resources to half the world’s population. Yet research on these mountain environments is lacking. Through partnership with institutions such as Fort Lewis College, the University of Colorado, the US Forest Service, and the BLM, MSI aims to raise global awareness of the importance of mountain ecosystems through local and regional scientific research, outreach and education.