Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

CSTPR Noontime Seminar: Steven Vanderheiden

Mobilizing Individual Responsibility Through Personal Carbon Budgeting

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CSTPR Special Seminar: Jack Stilgoe

Geoengineering as a Collective Experiment

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Tribe's Eye Gallery Exhibition

The Tribe’s Eye Project engaged Navajo Nation youth in documenting regional climate, environmental, and land-use change issues on the Navajo Nation lands using photography.

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Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Dan Kahan

Culture, Rationality, and Risk Perception: the Tragedy of the Science-Communication Commons

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2015 Conference on Communication and Environment in Boulder

Bridging Divides: Spaces of Scholarship and Practice in Environmental Communication

NAGT Earth Educators Rendezvous

CIRES Education and Outreach is proud to host the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) Earth Educators Rendezvous

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Name Talk title Date Location
Alexander, Curtis Assessing uncertainty of regional climate change from global climate models Monday, 24 January 2011: 5:15 PM 609 (Washington State Convention Center)
Barsugli, Joseph Assessing the potential for changes in extreme precipitation events across the Colorado Front Range Monday, 24 January 2011 Washington State Convention Center
Wolter, Klaus International Weather and Climate Events of 2010 Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 8:30 AM 6B (Washington State Convention Center)
Hofmann, Patrick 2010 results from the 3km HRRR - verification, case study assessment, and HRRR-based convective probabilistic forecasts (HCPF) Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 8:45 AM 310 (Washington State Convention Center)
Hu, Ming 2010 results from the 3km HRRR - verification, case study assessment, and HRRR-based convective probabilistic forecasts (HCPF) Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 8:45 AM 310 (Washington State Convention Center)
Lotoaniu, Paul GOES-R space weather observations and products Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 11:30 AM 4C-1 (Washington State Convention Center)
Parsons, Mark Libre: Freeing your data—Free to share, free to discover and use Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 11:30 AM 607 (Washington State Convention Center)
Alexander, Curtis NOAA's hourly-updated 3km HRRR and RUC/Rapid Refresh - recent (2010) and upcoming changes toward improving weather guidance for air-traffic management Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 1:45 PM 310 (Washington State Convention Center)
Fuller-Rowell, Tim Coherent thermospheric dynamic and electrodynamic response to stratospheric warmings Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 1:45 PM 4C-3 (Washington State Convention Center)
Wang, Houjun Coherent thermospheric dynamic and electrodynamic response to stratospheric warmings Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 1:45 PM 4C-3 (Washington State Convention Center)
Serreze, Mark NSIDC Data Stewardship Processes and Directions Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 2:15 PM 607 (Washington State Convention Center)
Weaver, Ronald NSIDC Data Stewardship Processes and Directions Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 2:15 PM 607 (Washington State Convention Center)
Steffen, Konrad The Climate and Cryosphere (CliC) Project Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 4:30 PM 608 (Washington State Convention Center)
Weatherhead, Betsy Solar energy forecasting Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 8:45 AM 309 (Washington State Convention Center)
Solomon, Susan Chair of a session: Communicating Climate Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM 609 (Washington State Convention Center)
Alexander, Curtis Progress in NOAA hourly-updated model forecasting for renewable energy guidance Thursday, 27 January 2011: 9:00 AM 4C-2 (Washington State Convention Center)
Olson, Joseph Progress in NOAA hourly-updated model forecasting for renewable energy guidance Thursday, 27 January 2011: 9:00 AM 4C-2 (Washington State Convention Center)
Alexander, Anneliese Weather-Driven Characteristics of a Reliable National Renewable Energy System Thursday, 27 January 2011: 2:45 PM 4C-2 (Washington State Convention Center)
Grell, Georg (Invited Speaker) Forecasting weather and air quality with online integrated modeling systems Thursday, 27 January 2011: 3:30 PM 3A (Washington State Convention Center)
Sardeshmukh, Prashant Outstanding challenges in projecting North American drought changes over the 21st century Thursday, 27 January 2011: 4:00 PM 612 (Washington State Convention Center)


One- to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost will disappear by 2200, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a study by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

“The amount of carbon released is equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age,” said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer. “That is a lot of carbon.”

The carbon from permanently frozen ground – known as permafrost – will make its impact, not only on the climate, but also on international strategies to reduce climate change Schaefer said. “If we want to hit a target carbon concentration, then we have to reduce fossil fuel emissions that much lower than previously calculated to account for this additional carbon from the permafrost,” Schaefer said. “Otherwise we will end up with a warmer Earth than we want.”

The carbon comes from plant material frozen in soil during the ice age of the Pleistocene – the icy soil trapped and preserved the biomass for thousands of years.  Schaefer equates the mechanism to storing broccoli in the home freezer: “As long as it stays frozen, it stays stable for many years,” he said. “But you take it out of the freezer and it will thaw out and decay.”
Now, permafrost is thawing in a warming climate and – just like the broccoli – the biomass will thaw and decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere like any other decomposing plant material, Schaefer said.  To predict how much carbon will enter the atmosphere and when, Schaefer and coauthors modeled the thaw and decay of organic matter currently frozen in permafrost under potential future warming conditions as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They found that between 29-59 percent of the permafrost will disappear by 2200. That permafrost took tens of thousands of years to form, but will melt in less than 200, Schaefer said.

The scientists used a model to predict how much carbon the thawing will release.  They estimate an extra 190 ± 64 gigatons of carbon will enter the atmosphere by 2200 – about one-fifth the total amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere today.  Carbon emissions from thawing permafrost will require greater reductions in fossil fuel emissions, to limit the atmospheric carbon dioxide to some maximum value associated with a target climate, Schaefer said. “It means the problem is getting more and more difficult all the time,” he said. “It is hard enough to reduce the emissions in any case, but now we saying that we have to reduce it even more.”

The study is published online, February 14, in Tellus. Coauthors on the Tellus study include CIRES Fellow and senior research scientist Tingjun Zhang from NSIDC, Lori Bruhwiler of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Andrew Barrett from NSIDC. Funding from the project came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA and the National Science Foundation. 

Click here for the full journal article »

Kevin Schaefer, CIRES/NSIDC, 303-492-8869, kevin.schaefer@nsidc.org

Katherine Leitzell, NSIDC Communication, 303-492-7262, katherine.leitzell@nsidc.org

Heightened solar and geomagnetic activity anticipated over next several days


WHAT: CIRES space weather expert available for phone and Boulder-area video interviews regarding on space weather

WHO: Eduardo A. Araujo-Pradere, Ph.D, Research Scientist, CIRES-University of Colorado, NOAA-Space Weather Prediction Center

With a series of major solar flares in the last few days, the sun is clearly waking up from several years of relative quiet. Activities on the sun’s surface — tracked and forecast by NOAA satellites and NOAA and CIRES scientists — can blast Earth with magnetic events that can damage the electrical grid and temporarily damage radio and satellite telecommunications. Space weather can also trigger spectacular aurora. Recent flares and other solar events are the strongest seen in four years.

NOAA’s National Weather Service operates the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colo., and SWPC is the nation’s primary source of expertise on the prediction of space weather and how these events affect Earth. Researchers and forecasters work closely with industry (electrical grid managers, airlines and satellite operators, among many others) to know when protective measures should be taken. SWPC expects disruptive space weather events to continue in upcoming months and years, since the sun is beginning its active phase.

MEDIA CONTACT:  Brian Clark, CIRES Communications, brian.f.clark@colorado.edu, 303-492-4790


The formation of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado has always puzzled scientists. Some 600 miles inland and far removed from the nearest tectonic plate, the only comparable inland mountain range is the Himalaya, which scientists deduced were formed by the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate.

"But there really was no India slamming into North America," said Craig Jones, a research fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. "Just how the Rockies have formed is an enigma."

But now scientists have further insight into the solution of this mystery. Jones and his team of researchers have proposed a new model of the mountains' creation and published their results in the February edition of the journal Geosphere.  Not only could their research explain the origin of the Rockies, it could also elucidate other geological phenomena: why a swath of gold, silver and other precious metal deposits stretches across Colorado, and why a marine basin deepened in the states of Colorado and Wyoming just before the Rockies rose. The sediments of this marine basin are the Pierre Shale, a layer of dark-gray shale lying along the Front Range of Colorado. "Pierre Shale has this nasty tendency to bow up people's basements," Jones said.  "Why more than a mile of this stuff was dumped into this area has been puzzling."

Previously scientists believed that the oceanic plate subducting - moving under - North America rose to rub against the continent's bottom all the way from the ocean to Colorado.  The theory was this action pushed the landmass into mountains much like a rug piles up underfoot, said Jones. But the hypothesis just doesn't explain the facts, he said. "That model predicted removal of material that is still found to lie underneath California and Arizona," he said. "That in and of itself was unsatisfying."

The new model hinges on an unusually thick lithosphere – the stiff part of the Earth's surface that make up the tectonic plates – under Wyoming.  The protrusion of this keel into more fluid mantle flowing below, created a suction that pulled down Southern Wyoming and Colorado and formed a basin, Jones said.  This basin, or hole, in which Pierre Shale built up, amplified mountain-building forces far inland and forced the formation of the Rockies, he said. "A huge basin develops and all of a sudden these mountains come rocketing out of it," Jones said. "We end up with the counter-intuitive visage of mountains rising up out of a hole. "

The hypothesis, if confirmed, could not only unravel the geological origin of the Rockies, but could also illuminate the mechanisms that have led to mountain ranges worldwide.  "We are adding a new collection of processes that can control how mountain belts develop that previously haven't really been appreciated," Jones said. "Considering these processes might explain other puzzling mountain belts."

Coauthors on the study include Lang Farmer of CIRES and the University of Colorado, Shijie Zhong of the University of Colorado, and Brad Sageman of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Northwestern University. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation and is published online in the journal Geosphere.

Craig Jones  303-492-6994 cjones@cires.colorado.edu
Kathleen Human 303-735-0196 kathleen.human@colorado.edu