Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

News from this year

News from this year

CIRES, NOAA Research Drones Take to the Skies for Flight Week

This month, two dozen small research drones will zip, hover and soar over parts of the San Luis Valley, collecting data on how and where clouds form, storms start, and rain falls. Improving weather forecasts requires better observations from parts of the atmosphere where it can be difficult to make measurements. So to get instruments to the right place at the right time, researchers are experimenting with small, remotely-piloted drones carrying state-of-the-art weather instruments.

Plant-Damaging Ozone Pollution Highest in East Asia but Declining in North America

Ozone pollution can harm rice, wheat, and other crops and plants, and a new global assessment shows plant-damaging ozone levels declining in North America, stable in Europe, and rising significantly in East Asia. These data will help researchers quantify the loss in yield in staple food crops based on the uptake of the pollutant by the plants’ leaves.


 

A Glimpse into Climate Change Through the Eyes of Teenagers

At the end of June, 15 middle and high school students from across southern Colorado and New Mexico journeyed to the University of Colorado Boulder to explore—in film—the effects of environmental change on their lives and in their communities. Through an immersive, CIRES-hosted science-education experience, these Upward Bound Math Science students took a deeper look at climate change topics, and used their new knowledge to create short, educational movies.

Bird’s Eye View of the Arctic

Drones and other unmanned technologies can cost-effectively collect weather data in harsh or remote environments and contribute to better weather and climate models, according to a new study from CIRES and NOAA researchers. Unmanned aircraft and instrument-bearing tethered balloons are helping fill in critical data gaps over difficult-to-sample surfaces in the Arctic, including newly forming sea ice and partially frozen tundra.

White House Recognizes Women's Science Mentoring Group with Colorado Ties

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation have named the Earth Science Women's Network as one of 41 individuals or organizations honored with presidential awards for teaching and mentoring in the sciences. The awards recognize schools and organizations in more than 50 states and U.S. territories.

 

New Study Explains Antarctica’s Coldest Temperatures

Tiny valleys near the top of Antarctica’s ice sheet reach temperatures of nearly -100 degrees Celsius, according to a published this week in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters. The finding could change scientists’ understanding of just how low temperatures can get at Earth’s surface, and how it happens, according to the researchers.

New Study Finds U.S. Oil & Gas Methane Emissions 60% Higher than Estimated

The U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane from its operations each year, 60 percent more than estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study published today in the journal Science.

Nation’s Largest Indoor Air Quality Experiment

The average person spends 90 percent of his or her time indoors—yet little is understood about how chemical compounds indoors interact and transform throughout our daily lives.

Cranking Up the Volume on Wildfire

Western wildfire seasons are worse when it’s dry and fuel-rich, and the chances of ignition are high—and all three factors were pushed to their limits last year, triggering one of the largest and costliest U.S. wildfire seasons in recent decades, according to a new paper. Climate change likely helped exacerbate fuels and dryness, the paper found, and people’s behavior contributed the sparks.

Interdisciplinary Climate Science: Risky But Worth It

In recent years, interdisciplinary research has been promoted widely, yet it can represent a risky pursuit for early career scientists. For example: climate science integrates research from across disciplines—yet taking a deliberately interdisciplinary approach can be perceived as 'less-than-rigorous' compared to a single discipline—according to a new study by Virginia Institute of Marine Science, National Weather Service, CIRES/NOAA, and other researchers across the country.

NOAA Finds Rising Emissions of Ozone-Destroying Chemical Banned by Montreal Protocol

Emissions of one of the chemicals most responsible for the Antarctic ozone hole are on the rise, despite an international treaty that required an end to its production in 2010, a new NOAA study shows.

Making Research Relevant for Decision Makers

Experts in NOAA/CIRES’ Western Water Assessment have released a new usable science guide to break down common barriers: research questions may not be targeted to resolve issues of most relevance to stakeholders, and research products such as publications or datasets are often inaccessible or impractical for use by non-experts.

In 2016’s Record Arctic Warmth, a Glimpse of the Future

A new analysis of the extraordinary heat that affected the Arctic in 2016 finds that it could not have happened without the steep increases in greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human activity, and resulting loss of sea ice, over the past 150 years. Evaluating ocean and atmospheric observations with advanced modeling tools, scientists from NOAA and CIRES found that about 60 percent of 2016’s record warmth was caused by record-low sea ice observed that year, and the ensuing transfer of ocean heat to the atmosphere across wide expanses of ice-free or barely frozen Arctic Ocean.

Turning a Love for the Outdoors into PhD Science

In the spring of 2009, CU Boulder researcher Alice Hill sat atop an icy Alaskan glacier for the first time, supporting an outdoor leadership team of 12 people. The landscape was stark and white—and cold, sharp wind was constant. She was bundled in windproof down, sipping hot liquids to keep warm after a day of mountain exploration.

High-Res Forecasts Could Help U.S. Expand Offshore Wind Power

A new NOAA dataset of wind forecasts could help the energy industry identify which offshore areas in the United States have the best potential for wind resource development. The data from this study, just published in the journal Wind Energy, could pinpoint areas of reduced risk and ultimately help minimize the cost of offshore wind power.


 

Physics of a glacial ‘slushy’ reveal granular forces on a massive scale

The laws for how granular materials flow apply even at the giant, geophysical scale of icebergs piling up in the ocean at the outlet of a glacier, CIRES and Emory University scientists have shown.

A Surprising New Superconductor

Last September, CIRES chemist and instrument designer Don David and colleagues Dave Pappas and Xian Wu at the National Institute of Standards and Technology discovered a powerful new plated metal combination that superconducts at easily attained temperatures—paving the road for the next critical steps in the development of cutting-edge supercomputers. David and his colleagues just published the new recipe: an ultrathin layer of rhenium sandwiched between layers of gold, each measuring 1/1000th the diameter of a human hair that can superconduct at critical temperature over 6 Kelvin.

Personal Plumes

When people are out and about, they leave plumes of chemicals behind them—from both car tailpipes and the products they put on their skin and hair. In fact, emissions of siloxane, a common ingredient in shampoos, lotions, and deodorants, are comparable in magnitude to the emissions of major components of vehicle exhaust, such as benzene, from rush-hour traffic in Boulder, Colorado, according to a new CIRES and NOAA study.

U.S. Gains in Air Pollution are Slowing Down

After decades of progress in cleaning up air quality, U.S. improvements for two key air pollutants have slowed significantly in recent years, new research concludes. The unexpected finding indicates that it may be more difficult than previously realized for the nation to achieve its goal of decreased ozone pollution, scientists said.

Training the Next Wave of Earth Data Scientists

CIRES’ Earth Lab now boasts one of the only professional certificate programs in the nation to focus specifically on Earth data science applications. The year-long, three-course “Earth Data Analytics - Foundations” online certificate, which launches at CU Boulder in August 2018, provides students with critical skills in Earth science, data analytics, and interdisciplinary collaboration—training the next generation of researchers to succeed in today’s world of big data.

Russian Arctic Glacier Loss Accelerating

Geophysicists examining glacier changes in the Russian Arctic have found that the rate of ice mass loss has nearly doubled over the last decade when compared to records from the previous 60 years, according to Cornell-led research published April 24 in Remote Sensing of Environment.

National Ocean-Science Competition Makes a Splash in Colorado

This Earth Day weekend, over 100 students from 20+ U.S. states, including Alaska and Hawaii, will chart their course to the University of Colorado Boulder, to match wits in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. The student finalists will put their knowledge to the test—expertly answering Jeopardy-style trivia questions on topics including marine chemistry, policy, biology, and more. CIRES will host the competition here in Boulder—it’s the first time the nationals have been held in a fully landlocked state.

Arctic Sea Ice Maximum Second Lowest in Satellite Record

Sea ice over the Arctic Ocean likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.48 million square kilometers (5.59 million square miles) March 17, the second lowest in the 39-year satellite record, falling just behind 2017. This year’s maximum extent is 1.16 million square kilometers (448,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 15.64 million square kilometers (6.04 million square miles).

Detecting Methane from Miles Away

A new field instrument developed by a collaborative team of researchers can quantify methane leaks as tiny as 1/4 of a human exhalation from nearly a mile away. CIRES, NOAA, CU Boulder, and NIST scientists revamped and “ruggedized” Nobel Prize laser technology—turning a complex, room-sized collection of instruments into a sleek, 19-inch portable unit to tote into the field near oil and gas operations. The instrument collects precise, nonstop data, providing game-changing information critical for safe industry operations and controlling harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Mapping Our Planet, One Ocean at a Time

It could be said that Earth’s oceans are the final frontier in exploration. More than 80 percent of the world's oceans remain unexplored and unmapped. Human activities in our oceans continue to increase, and scientists from around the globe have come together to make mapping the entire ocean a reality by 2030. To aid in this endeavor, scientists from NCEI and other institutions have developed an algorithm that will play a significant role in cultivating a seabed mapping strategy for the North Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

A New View of the Sun

When the Sun flared dramatically last September, causing geomagnetic storms and radio blackouts on Earth, a new NOAA solar telescope captured the drama from a different perspective. Now, NOAA has released these new images to the scientific community—images that scientists from CIRES and NCEI have played a key role in capturing.

Multipurpose Mapping

Say you're developing a training program for submarine pilots. You want an underwater scene that's realistic so that their training is meaningful. NOAA's got those data, thanks to a team of CIRES and federal employees ironically located in the landlocked state of Colorado. These scientists, working as part of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), develop high-resolution, three-dimensional coastal maps, or digital elevation models (DEMs).

Consumer & Industrial Products Now a Dominant Urban Air Pollution Source

Chemical products that contain compounds refined from petroleum, like household cleaners, pesticides, paints and perfumes, now rival motor vehicle-related emissions as the top source of urban air pollution, according to a surprising NOAA-led study. People use a lot more fuel than they do petroleum-based compounds in chemical products—about 15 times more by weight, according to the new assessment. Even so, lotions, paints and other products contribute about as much to air pollution as the transportation sector does, said lead author Brian McDonald, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division.

Sea Level Rise Accelerating

Global sea level rise is not cruising along at a steady 3 mm per year, it’s accelerating a little every year, like a driver merging onto a highway, according to a powerful new assessment led by CIRES Fellow Steve Nerem. He and his colleagues harnessed 25 years of satellite data to calculate that the rate is increasing by about 0.08 mm/year every year—which could mean an annual rate of sea level rise of 10 mm/year, or even more, by 2100.

Powerful New Dataset Reveals Patterns of Global Ozone Pollution

Although ozone pollution is dropping across many parts of the United States, western Europe and Japan, many people living in those countries still experience more than a dozen days every year in which levels of the lung irritant exceed health-based standards.

“Building” a Future in Science with Construction-Based Toys

Childhood play experiences strongly shape a person's spatial skills, according to a new CIRES-led study—those skills can be critical to success in fields like science and engineering.

Dust on Snow Controls Springtime River Rise in West

Dust, not spring warmth, controls the pace of spring snowmelt that feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River, according to a new study. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the amount of dust on mountain snowpack controls how fast the Colorado Basin's rivers rise in the spring regardless of air temperature; more dust is associated with faster spring runoff and higher peak flows.

Mining Climate Data and Maritime History from Civil War-Era U.S. Navy Ships’ Logs

A new grant will let a University of Washington-led project add a new fleet to its quest to learn more about past climate from the records of long-gone mariners. CIRES' Gil Compo is part of the team, which won a  2017 “Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives” award, announced earlier this month by the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Library and Information Resources.

What Lives in Your Dirt?

CIRES researchers are one step closer to finding out after compiling the first global atlas of soil bacterial communities and identifying a group of around 500 key species that are both common and abundant worldwide. 

Ocean Science Competition for High Schoolers Thrives in Landlocked State

Late Winter in Colorado brings dozens of Trout Bowl contestants to Boulder—high school students from across the Front Range and beyond who compete in an ocean science-themed, jeopardy-style competition. But instead of presenting questions about world history and pop culture, judges ask questions like: “Explain the difference between the compensation depth and the oxygen minimum in the ocean.”

CIRES Science @ #AMS2018

Highlighted presentations by CIRES scientists during the 2018 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.

CIRES Director Helping Set National Earth Science Priorities

WASHINGTON – NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) should implement a coordinated approach for their space-based environmental observations to further advance Earth science and applications for the next decade, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Announcing the Reservoir Sedimentation Management Webinar Series

Tune in for this webinar series sponsored by CIRES Outreach & Education and CIRES Western Water Assessment. In this webinar series, the Subcommittee on Sedimentation’s National Reservoir Sedimentation and Sustainability Team presents sustainable solutions to reservoir sediment management.

Continued Emissions May Cause Global North-to-South Shift in Wind Power By End of Century

In the next century, wind resources may decrease in many regions of the Northern Hemisphere and could sharply increase in some hotspot regions down south, according to a study by University of Colorado Boulder researchers. The first-of-its-kind study predicting how global wind power may shift with climate change appears today in Nature Geoscience.

Local Air Pollution on Alaska's North Slope Changes Cloud Properties

Local air pollution on Alaska's North Slope appears to affect liquid clouds that form downwind, leading to smaller droplets less likely to fall as drizzle or rain, according to new research. Clouds in the region can either cool or warm the surface, depending on their specific properties and season. In the summertime, Arctic clouds generally cool the surface by reflecting sunlight, but changing droplet size may alter the degree of that cooling.

CIRES Science @ #AGU17

Talks and posters by CIRES scientists, events and more CIRES @ #AGU17

Click for daily highlights:

NOAA Satellite Data Illuminate Oil Production Trends in Iraq and Syria

Airport Runway Names Shift with Earth’s Magnetic Field

Major Return on Investment from Improving Climate Observations

A well-designed climate observing system could help scientists answer knotty questions about climate while delivering trillions of dollars in benefits by providing decision makers information they need to protect public health and the economy in the coming decades, according to a new paper published today.

Oil and Gas Emissions a Major Contributor to Bad Ozone Days

2017 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Released

Climate change is unequivocally affecting the health of people around the world today, with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, according to an international report published today in the prestigious medical journal Lancet.

Raton Basin Earthquakes Linked to Oil and Gas Fluid Injections

A rash of earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico recorded between 2008 and 2010 was likely due to fluids pumped deep underground during oil and gas wastewater disposal, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

The study, which took place in the 2,200-square-mile Raton Basin along the central Colorado-northern New Mexico border, found more than 1,800 earthquakes up to magnitude 4.3 during that period, linking most to wastewater injection well activity. Such wells are used to pump water back in the ground after it has been extracted during the collection of methane gas from subterranean coal beds.

Highlights of CIRES Scientists @ GSA

This year the annual Geological Society of America meeting will be held October 22 through 25 in beautiful Seattle, Washington. GSA brings together scientists from around the globe: “to advance geoscience research and discovery, service to society, stewardship of Earth, and the geosciences profession.” This year’s annual meeting features several CIRES researchers in diverse fields. See below for a few you don’t want to miss! Please note all times are listed in Pacific time. Follow on social media with the hashtag #GSA2017.

Study Illuminates Public Perceptions of Climate Engineering

Many people expressed serious concerns when presented with the idea of deliberately manipulating Earth's climate, according to a small, focus-group study conducted in four places around the world. But despite those negative feelings, they remained open about "geoengineering" or climate intervention ideas, in the face of a changing climate and uncertain future.

A Global Look at Earth’s Surface Waters

While Boulder battled temperatures in the high 90’s this summer, CIRES ESOC researcher J. Toby Minear and his team were knee-deep in frigid Alaskan waters—taking calibration ground measurements for a NASA mission that will harness new, state-of-the-art satellite technology to view Earth’s water in incredible detail from space.

Clouds Like Honeycomb

Polygons are widespread in nature: Drying mud may crack into many-sided blocks, and bees shape honeycomb into regular, six-sided cells. Hexagons also appear in broad sheets of clouds across parts of Earth’s oceans, and now a team of researchers has used a network approach to analyze why. Their work promises to help scientists represent clouds more accurately in computer models of weather and climate change. 

The Mountains that Remade America, by Craig Jones

CIRES Fellow and Professor of Geology Craig Jones has released a new book: The Mountains that Remade America:  How Sierra Nevada Geology Impacts Modern Life. The book explores the intimate connection between this well-known mountain range, its geology, and the evolution of human history in America. Jones gives us answers to questions like: Why do these mountains exist where they do? How have they changed the way Americans live? And just how different would the modern United States be today if these mountains had not formed?

Thirty Five Years of Water Science

Summit County, Colorado, has been growing for decades—its forested slopes and sparkling waters draw more residents and tourists each year. More people and their housing, boats, and activities create wastewater runoff and land disturbance that may harm water quality. Summit County’s Lake Dillon, however, is especially well protected against degradation—thanks to a long-term collaboration of the intergovernmental Summit Water Quality Committee, Denver Water and the CIRES Center for Limnology. Water quality has remained stable despite the region’s rapid growth.  

Finding Resilience in Changing Climates

The National Science Foundation has awarded a University of Colorado Boulder-led team nearly $500,000 to explore how Indigenous peoples living in the arid U.S. Southwest and the icy Arctic are adapting to rapid social and environmental changes that affect food security.

Coming Soon: 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Movie

Larisza Krista’s movie of the 2012 total solar eclipse in Queensland, Australia didn’t require a zoom lens, a solar filter, a tripod, or a video camera. Instead, it took computer programming and hundreds of still photos. Krista developed a tool to process solar eclipse images from many sources and stitch them together, to create a solar eclipse “movie.”

Eclipse Will Have Atmospheric Impact

On August 21, outside of Lusk, Wyoming, Terry Bullett and Justin Mabie, like thousands of others across the United States, will be watching the solar eclipse cross the sky above. Totality there will last for less than two minutes, starting at 11:46 am. But Bullett and Mabie will be watching the eclipse with more than just their (appropriately protected) eyes: They’ve set up instruments in a field outside of Lusk to take research radar measurements before, during, and after the eclipse. Information captured by their instrument will help them study the ionosphere, a part of the upper atmosphere that’s critical for radio and other forms of communications.

Ozone Treaty Taking a Bite Out of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Montreal Protocol, the international treaty adopted initially to protect and ultimately to heal Earth’s protective ozone layer, has significantly reduced emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals from the United States. But in a twist, a new study by NOAA and CIRES scientists shows the 30-year old treaty has also significantly reduced climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from the United States.

Soil Doesn’t Forget

Ecologists need to understand what and where soil microbes live in Earth’s ecosystems—these microorganisms can influence what can thrive above. But there’s a gap in the field: Today’s climate conditions do not fully explain the types of microbes they see. So CIRES researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are looking thousands of years back in time—and they’re finding answers.

Alaska’s North Slope Snow-Free Season is Lengthening

On the North Slope of Alaska, snow is melting earlier in the spring and the snow-in date is happening later in the fall, according to a new study by CIRES and NOAA researchers. Atmospheric dynamics and sea ice conditions are behind this lengthening of the snow-free season, the scientists found, and the consequences are far reaching—including birds laying eggs sooner and iced-over rivers flowing earlier.

 

Two Degrees F Already Baked In

Even if people could instantly turn off all our emissions of greenhouse gases, the Earth would continue to heat up about two more degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century, according to a sophisticated new analysis published in Nature Climate Change. And if current emissions continue for 15 years, odds are good that we’ll see nearly three degrees (1.5 C) of warming by then.

New Associate Director for Science: Christine Wiedinmyer

CIRES welcomes Dr. Christine Wiedinmyer, an internationally recognized atmospheric scientist who will begin as our new Associate Director for Science August 21.

Innovation Mitigates Cloud Problem in Climate and Weather Forecast Models

A resolution challenge in weather and climate modeling has dogged modelers for years: Computationally, it’s just too expensive to represent certain clouds in the detail needed to make them behave realistically; yet clouds are critical to accurate weather and climate modeling. Now, a team of CIRES, NOAA and University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee experts has proposed a solution, and in a test, their new clouds even produced credible drizzle.

 

Preview the Total Solar Eclipse with NOAA’s Science On a Sphere®

For those who cannot view the August 21 total solar eclipse from its “path of totality,” or even for those who just want a preview of the live event, NOAA has released two new eclipse datasets for the illuminated Science On a Sphere®.

Earth Lab Joins CIRES

Starting July 1, on its second anniversary, a University of Colorado Boulder program called Earth Lab will become part of CIRES, a longstanding leader in Earth system research. Earth Lab scientists and staff are tackling a critical challenge in Earth science research at CIRES: dealing with increasingly enormous environmental datasets.

The World Inside Your Showerhead

Don't panic, but there is a largely unknown world of tiny creatures living inside your showerhead. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are working to illuminate the secrets of this dark, damp microcosm.   

Alaskan Tundra Becoming Source of Seasonal Carbon Emissions

Inspiring Young Students to Take a Closer Look at Our Changing World

Tune in for the opportunity to be inspired and amused by the work of talented youngsters determined to change the world. By inviting 80 students to participate in an immersive, science-education experience, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder is hoping to influence a new wave of young environmental scientists.

Saying Goodbye to Glaciers

Glaciers around the world are disappearing before our eyes, and the implications for people are wide-ranging and troubling, Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, concludes in a Perspectives piece in the journal Science today.

 

High-Altitude Aircraft Data May Help Improve Air Quality Models, More

Sulfur dioxide released from volcanoes or power plants causes acid rain and leads to particles that play a role in breaking down the protective ozone layer high in the atmosphere. But those particles also reflect sunlight away from Earth, leading some to propose that people could inject sulfur dioxide (SO2) high in the atmosphere to mitigate global warming.

Modern River Piracy

The retreat of a massive Yukon glacier a mile up its valley has redirected meltwater from one river basin to another in the first modern case of “river piracy,” according to a new analysis by a team of researchers including Mike Willis, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Cleaning Up

Twenty-one scientists and family members patrolled the edges of highway 36 Saturday morning, using poker sticks to pick up scraps of plastic and old bottles, filling tough orange plastic trash bags with their findings.

As US Drilling Surged, Methane Emissions Didn’t

A new NOAA-led study shows that methane emissions from the United States did not grow significantly from 2000 to 2013 and are not likely to have been an important driver of the increase in atmospheric methane levels observed worldwide after 2007, as other studies have suggested.

Arctic Sea Ice Max at Record Low for Third Straight Year

Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the third straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

The Crowd & The Cloud Series Features CIRES Director

There’s a revolution happening in science. Enabled by smartphones, computers and mobile technology, regular people are observing their environments, monitoring neighborhoods and collecting information about the world and the things they care about. These so-called “citizen scientists” are the focus of a 4-part public television series premiering in April, THE CROWD & THE CLOUD, hosted and narrated by CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati. 

SnowEx: Science Supporting Water Management

Dozens of scientists headed into Colorado’s high country by ski, snowshoe, snow machine, and aircraft in February 2017. The snow physicists, data experts, hydrologists, and others kicked off NASA’s multi-year SnowEx mission with its singular overarching goal: Figure out the most accurate, reliable way to measure the water content in snow—from space. 

NOAA Instruments Aid Forecasters During Epic California Winter

Lives have been lost, and roads and property damaged this winter as a number of storms battered northern California, causing record precipitation as well as numerous floods, mudslides, and debris flows.

Kristen Averyt to head Desert Research Institute

Kristen Averyt, CIRES associate director for science, will serve as the next president of Nevada's Desert Research Institute, effective July 1.

Preparing for the Worst

Flood, drought, fire, blizzard, tornado: these are but a few of the natural hazards faced by communities around the western United States. But rather than wait for federal or state officials to lead the way, it’s cities that are really taking action in dealing with these kinds of hazards.

When Good Ozone Goes Bad

Late spring and early summer is when the air quality is generally good across most of the United States. But for the desert southwest, newly published NOAA research details how a common springtime weather pattern and pollution transported from Asia often conspire to create unhealthy ozone levels.

Highlights of CIRES Science at the American Meteorological Society

Talks and posters by CIRES scientists, events and more: CIRES@ #AMS2017

Above-Ground Air Monitoring Takes Flight This Winter

Utah's Division of Air Quality and partners, including researcher from NOAA and CIRES, are studying Salt Lake City's winter particulate pollution from aboard a Twin Otter.

Anne Perring Receives Presidential Honor

President Obama has named CIRES Anne Perring, an atmospheric scientist who works at NOAA in Boulder, as one of 102 young scientists and engineers to receive the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

What’s Cooking in Ghana?

Close to half the world’s population cooks over an open fire every day. That’s hard on human health—people cooking over an open fire breathe in smoke and gases that can damage their lungs.

On the Origin of Life in the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are home to a tremendous diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. But why this is, and when it all began, remains something of an open question.

Closer Collaborations Between Scientists, Data Users Aim to Improve Decision Making

Scientists are increasingly forming tight partnerships with water managers, community leaders, risk managers and other decision makers, collaborating in the actual design of research. Such “co-produced science” not only improves decisions, but can help scientists generate knowledge that has broader impact than a scientific paper. CIRES' Jeff Deems is one of hundreds presenting on "co-produced science" at AGU. 

Faster Than the Speed of Ice

Glaciers and ice sheets move in unique and sometimes surprising patterns, according to a new method that uses satellite images to provide a near-real-time view of flowing ice in Greenland, Antarctica and mountain ranges around the world. With imagery and data from Landsat 8, scientists including from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (part of CIRES at CU Boulder) are mapping the flow speed for every large glacier and ice sheet on Earth, and making it available in near-real-time, online.

CIRES Science at #AGU16

Talks and posters by CIRES scientists, events and more CIRES @ #AGU16

Sea Ice Hit Record Lows in November

Unusually high air temperatures and a warm ocean have led to a record low Arctic sea ice extent for November, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent also hit a record low for the month, caused by moderately warm temperatures and a rapid shift in circumpolar winds.

Fire Starters

On October 1, top chemistry researchers from around the country came to Missoula, Montana, to light stuff on fire. They converged at an old building that looked like a mad scientist’s warehouse. Inside, they helped each other set up millions of dollars worth of instruments. Wind tunnels weaved in and out of the walls, and a rickety elevator ferried researchers to the top of a giant smoke funnel. These scientists were kicking off a multi-year mission called FIREX—Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment, to better understand the air quality and climate effects of fire—in the controlled environment of the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Sciences Laboratory (Fire Lab).

Ancient History

CIRES Visiting Fellow Adam Schneider uses environmental archaeology to understand how changes of climate affected people in the ancient Middle East and North Africa.

Distant Impacts: Smoke, Dust from Pacific Northwest Fires affect Colorado's Air Quality

During poor air quality days in Denver last year, scientists found that specks of mineral dust swept into the region along with smoke from Pacific Northwest wildfires, they report in a new study published in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Both smoke and mineral dust have consequences not only for health, but also for climate.

Pollution Emitted Near Equator has Biggest Impact on Global Ozone

Since the 1980s, air pollution has increased worldwide, but it has increased at a much faster pace in regions close to the equator. 

Polar Bear Season

Four CIRES researchers, including CIRES Fellow Jen Kay, head north, to the Arctic tundra near Churchill, Canada, just in time to see the local polar bears as they congregate on the shores of Hudson Bay.

NOAA-Led Work Could Improve Air Quality, Climate Modeling

The United States and the European Union take markedly different approaches to vehicle emissions controls, and the evidence is in the air, according to a new study.

Just Who Lives With You?

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Colorado Boulder used DNA testing and citizen science to create an “atlas” that shows the range and diversity of arthropods found in homes across the continental United States.

Stone Walls, Railway Lines and Carbon Fibers Record Turkey's Westward Drift

In February 1944, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake shook a sparsely populated region of central Anatolia in Turkey. Within hours, the steel rails of the Ankara-Istanbul railroad began to distort. By the next day, they had been misaligned by more than 13 feet as a result of slip on the North Anatolian Fault, a fault with many similarities to the San Andreas Fault in California.

The "Fingerprint" of Feedlots

Gathering accurate, big-picture information on emissions from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) is no easy task.

Study Finds Fossil Fuel Methane Emissions Greater than Previously Estimated

Methane emissions from fossil fuel development around the world are up to 60 percent greater than estimated by previous studies, according to new research led by scientists from CIRES and NOAA.

Planetary Tomography

By dissecting the sloshing signals of ocean tides recorded by magnetic satellites high above the Earth, a team of international researchers has managed to produce interior images of our planet, the scientists reported today in the journal Science Advances. Their proof-of-concept work could transform scientists’ ability to image and understand what lies below Earth’s crust, and could even help them remotely probe the interiors of other celestial bodies with tidal saltwater, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa

Wastewater Injection and Induced Seismicity

An increase in earthquake activity is occurring in areas of the eastern and central U.S., areas where unprecedented volumes of wastewater, produced along with oil and gas, are being disposed of, by injection, into deep geological formations. A new study, out today in Science, provides strong evidence of the link between oil and gas wastewater disposal and earthquakes in Texas.

 

Losing Its Cool

Measuring just how much mass a glacier is losing—through melting and calving—is no easy task. While there’s plenty of satellite data from space, scientists haven’t had access to much local, on-the-ground observation, which is the sort of information that’s necessary to more accurately measure glacial mass loss. But now a team of scientists, including CIRES’ Mike Willis, have put a series of GPS systems in place that give them the kind of data they need. Using that information, they find that previous estimates of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet—already known to be shrinking—may be underestimates. 

2016 Ties 2007 for Second Lowest Arctic Sea Ice Minimum

The Arctic’s ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent on September 10, 2016, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of CIRES and CU Boulder. Arctic sea ice extent on that day stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles), statistically tied at second lowest in the satellite record with the 2007 minimum

Indigenous Knowledge at International Data Week

Welcome to the first ever International Data Week! This event, which runs September 11-17, brings together data scientists, researchers and policy makers in exploring how to take advantage of the data revolution and use all that information to benefit society. Among the participants this year is the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA). 

Preventing Human-Caused Earthquakes

While the earthquake that rumbled below Colorado’s eastern plains May 31, 2014, did no major damage, its occurrence surprised both Greeley residents and local seismologists. The earthquake happened in an area that had seen no seismic activity in at least four decades, according to a new analysis by a team of Colorado researchers. It was likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground—and, the team concluded, quick action taken by scientists, regulators, and industry may well have reduced the risk of of larger quakes in the area.

Putting Science to Work

Using seed grant money from CU, CIRES' WWA is working with Earth Lab to develop workshops and a class on usable science. With usable science, scientists have a better understanding of how their research will be used and the people using the research have their needs addressed. Essentially, it’s more about shaping the research agenda with those who are affected by a particular issue, rather than just handing them the results of a study.

 

Methane leaks: A new way to find and fix in real time

Researchers have flown aircraft over an oil and gas field and pinpointed—with unprecedented precision—sources of the greenhouse gas methane in real time.

Accounting for Ozone

The first peer-reviewed study to directly quantify how emissions from oil and gas activities influence summertime ozone pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem.

Greenland and the Legacy of Camp Century

Camp Century, a U.S. military base built within the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959, doubled as a top-secret site for testing the feasibility of deploying nuclear missiles from the Arctic during the Cold War.

Reconstructing Arctic History

There's little doubt that Arctic sea ice is shrinking, but a new study looking back to the 1850s reveals that today's ice loss is unprecedented in extent and rate.

CIRES' Jen Kay Wins NSF Early Career Award

University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric scientist Jennifer Kay has been honored with a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, worth more than $800,000

Study: As Alaska Warms, Methane Emissions Appear Stable

Analysis of nearly three decades of air samples from Alaska’s North Slope show little change in long-term methane emissions despite significant Arctic warming over that time period, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters

Mounting Tension in the Himalaya

During the Gorkha earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, only part of the fault ruptured, below-ground. A new study finds the other part remains locked, accumulating further strain on that segment of the fault. 

Milky Way Now Hidden from One-Third of Humanity

The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is just a faded memory for one third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans, according to a new global atlas of light pollution produced by Italian and American scientists.

New Study: Arctic Sea Ice Loss Likely Not a Factor in Recent Northern Hemisphere Cold Winters

Arctic sea ice loss is a major factor behind the warming Arctic, but melting sea ice is probably not behind recent cold winters in parts of Europe, Asia, and the United States, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Climate Change’s Likely Role in Kidney Disease Epidemics

Global warming will likely exacerbate epidemics of chronic kidney disease seen recently in hot, rural regions of the world, according to a new assessment by an international team of researchers, including two from the University of Colorado Boulder. 

North Dakota’s Bakken Oil and Gas Field Leaking 275,000 Tons of Methane per Year

The Bakken oil and gas field is leaking a lot of methane, but less than some satellites report and less than the latest Environmental Protection Agency inventory for petroleum systems, according to the researchers’ calculations. That's the finding of the first field study measuring emissions of this potent greenhouse gas from the Bakken, which spans parts of North Dakota and Montana. The work was published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

World’s Shallowest Slow-Motion Earthquakes Detected Offshore of New Zealand

Research published in the May 6 edition of Science indicates that slow-motion earthquakes or “slow-slip events” can rupture the shallow portion of a fault that also moves in large, tsunami-generating earthquakes. The finding has important implications for assessing tsunami hazards. The discovery was made by conducting the first-ever detailed investigation of centimeter-level seafloor movement at an offshore subduction zone.

Making The Instruments That Help Make The Science

The Integrated Instrument Development Facility (IIDF) may be in the basement of the CIRES building, but there’s a whole world of invention and innovation happening down there as a group of instrument designers, glass blowers, electronics experts and machinists design, build and test scientific instruments for CIRES, the chemistry department and the wider CU Boulder community. 

Will Droughts Turn the Amazon into a Giant Source of Carbon Emissions?

As climate change increases temperatures and alters rainfall patterns across South America, will Amazonian rainforests shift from a carbon sponge to a carbon source?

One Oil Field a Key Culprit in Global Ethane Gas Increase

A single U.S. shale oil field is responsible for much of the past decade’s increase in global atmospheric levels of ethane, a gas that can damage air quality and impact climate, according to new study led by the University of Michigan, with CIRES and NOAA co-authors.

From The Archives: Crowdsourcing Earth's Magnetic Field

Happy May—Bike to School and Bike to Work days fall in this month! Back in December 2014, we wrote about CrowdMag, a new citizen science effort that has geophysicists asking smart phone users around the world for help mapping Earth’s magnetic field. In honor of spring's cyclists and walkers, who collect terrific magnetic data, we're reposting an adapted version of this earlier story and hoping to get new citizen scientists on board!

Islands Face A Drier Future

In a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, a new way of modeling the effects of climate change on islands shows that previous analyses underestimated the number of islands that would become substantially more arid by mid century–73 percent, up from an estimate of 50 percent. That puts an increasing amount of pressure on millions of humans and vital ecosystems that are both facing the brunt of the effects of climate change and underrepresented in global climate models.

Rethinking Induced Seismicity

A survey of a major oil and natural gas-producing region in Western Canada suggests there may be a link between induced earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, not just wastewater injection, according to a new report out this week in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

Arctic Sea Ice Maximum

Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder and NASA.

Antarctica's "Upside-Down Rivers"

“Upside-down rivers” of warm ocean water threaten the stability of floating ice shelves in Antarctica, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center published today in Nature Geoscience. The study highlights how parts of Antarctica’s ice sheet may be weakening due to contact with warm ocean water.

Raina Gough Joins NASA’s Mars Rover Science Team

NASA has selected CU Boulder researcher Raina Gough to join the Mars Curiosity rover mission as a participating scientist; she hopes to expand the science team’s search for evidence of liquid water. In the laboratory, Dr. Gough and her colleagues have shown that a process called deliquescence may create briny liquids under conditions likely to exist, in certain times and places, on Mars’ surface.

History On Ice

The American Geophysical Union invited CIRES research associate William Colgan and six team members, including CIRES director Waleed Abdalati, to compile and synthesize decades worth of research on glacier crevasses, to highlight overarching key concepts and new research directions. Their review paper has just been published in Reviews of Geophysics.

When Less Is More

Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) is an ozone-depleting chemical that's been largely banned for many years. The chemical is still released into the air in fairly small amounts here in the United States, but a new study from CIRES and NOAA reports those rates are still 100 times higher than expected, on average. 

2015 California Blowout Led to Largest U.S. Methane Release Ever

First published study since Aliso Canyon well was plugged shows leak was equivalent to one-quarter of Los Angeles’ annual methane pollution

Gijs de Boer Receives Presidential Honor

Boulder’s Gijs de Boer, 36, (pictured above in orange) is one of 106 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. He is being recognized “for fundamental contributions to the understanding and modeling of Arctic atmosphere."

Where Clouds and Particles Meet Climate

New research from a team of NOAA-led scientists proposes a totally new approach to understanding how tiny particles in the atmosphere and clouds interact—and that understanding those interactions is critical if you want to know how clouds in turn impact climate.

Rapid, Affordable Energy Transformation Possible

The United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand, according to a new study by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

CU Boulder Team Discovers Surprising Waves in Antarctic Atmosphere

University of Colorado Boulder researchers who have spent thousands of hours observing the atmosphere high above Antarctica have discovered a previously unknown class of wave that ripples constantly through the atmosphere, likely affecting high-level winds, climate, and even Earth-based communications systems.

AMS 2016

CIRES scientists are lead authors and co-authors on dozens of papers being presented at the 96th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans, Louisiana this week. Linked are a few highlights, by day.

Greenland's "Sponge" Affected By Atmospheric Warming

A new study of snow and firn layers high on the Greenland ice sheet shows that recent atmospheric warming is changing the ability of near-surface firn layers to store meltwater, which can result in a faster release of runoff from the ice sheet.