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The threat of droughts and their associated impacts on the landscape and human communities has long been recognized in the United States, especially in high risk areas such as the South Central region. There is ample literature on the effects of long-term climate change and short-term climate variability on the occurrence of droughts. However, it is unclear whether this information meets the needs of relevant stakeholders and actually contributes to reducing the vulnerability or increasing the resilience of communities to droughts. For example, are the methods used to characterize the severity of drought – known as drought indices – effective tools for predicting the actual damage felt by communities? As droughts...
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Streamflow in the Colorado River is heavily influenced by high-elevation snowpack. Warming temperatures in spring can reduce snow-fed flows, with serious implications for the water supplies that support communities and wildlife. While it is already well-known that precipitation has a significant influence on river flow, recent observations suggest that temperature and the amount of water in soil may also influence streamflow. In the face of a changing climate, it is important that resource managers understand how factors such as changing temperatures and precipitation will affect this vital water source. To address this need, researchers are examining records of streamflow, temperature, soil moisture, and precipitation...
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Forests are of tremendous ecological and economic importance. They provide natural places for recreation, clean drinking water, and important habitats for fish and wildlife. However, the warmer temperatures and harsher droughts in the west that are related to climate change are causing die-offs of many trees. Outbreaks of insects, like the mountain pine beetle, that kill trees are also more likely in warmer, drier conditions. To maintain healthy and functioning forest ecosystems, one action forest managers can take is to make management decisions that will help forests adapt to future climate change. However, adaptation is a process based on genetic change and few tools are currently available for managers to use...
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The South Central U.S. encompasses a wide range of ecosystem types and precipitation patterns. Average annual precipitation is less than 10 inches in northwest New Mexico but can exceed 60 inches further east in Louisiana. Much of the region relies on warm-season convective precipitation – that is, highly localized brief but intense periods of rainfall that are common in the summer. This type of precipitation is a significant driver of climate and ecosystem function in the region, but it is also notoriously difficult to predict since it occurs at such small spatial and temporal scales. While global climate models are helpful for understanding and predicting large-scale precipitation trends, they often do not capture...
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In Alaska, recent research has identified particular areas of the state where both a lack of soil moisture and warming temperatures increase the likelihood of wildfire. While this is an important finding, this previous research did not take into account the important role that melting snow, ice, and frozen ground (permafrost) play in replenshing soil moisture in the spring and summer months. This project will address this gap in the characterization of fire risk using the newly developed monthly water balance model (MWBM). The MWBM takes into account rain, snow, snowmelt, glacier ice melt, and the permafrost layer to better calculate soil moisture replenishment and the amount of moisture that is lost to the atmosphere...
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The sky island forests of the southwestern United States are one of the most diverse temperate forest ecosystems in the world, providing key habitat for migrating and residential species alike. Black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and wild turkey are just a few of the species found in these isolated mountain ecosystems that rise out of the desert landscape. However, recent droughts have crippled these ecosystems, causing significant tree death. Climate predictions suggest that this region will only face hotter and drier conditions in the future, potentially stressing these ecosystems even further. Simple models predict that vegetation will move to cooler and wetter locations in response to this warming. However,...
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The distribution and abundance of cheatgrass, an invasive annual grass native to Eurasia, has increased substantially across the Intermountain West, including the Great Basin. Cheatgrass is highly flammable, and as it has expanded, the extent and frequency of fire in the Great Basin has increased by as much as 200%. These changes in fire regimes are associated with loss of the native sagebrush, grasses, and herbaceous flowering plants that provide habitat for many native animals, including Greater Sage-Grouse. Changes in vegetation and fire management have been suggested with the intent of conserving Greater Sage-Grouse. However, the potential responses of other sensitive-status birds to these changes in management...
A new method for automatic detection of atmospheric rivers (ARs) is developed and applied to an atmospheric reanalysis, yielding an extensive catalog of ARs land-falling along the west coast of North America during 1948–2017. This catalog provides a large array of variables that can be used to examine AR cases and their climate-scale variability in exceptional detail. The new record of AR activity, as presented, validated and examined here, provides a perspective on the seasonal cycle and the interannual-interdecadal variability of AR activity affecting the hydroclimate of western North America. Importantly, AR intensity does not exactly follow the climatological pattern of AR frequency. Strong links to hydroclimate...
The Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and their managing organization, the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey, have chosen the emerging climate science field of Ecological Drought as a research focus area. This workshop is part of a series of meetings at each of the nation’s eight CSCs aimed at collating our existing knowledge of the ecological impacts, resistance, and recovery from drought. The eight CSCs provide a fantastic opportunity to compare the ecological effects of drought, related research activities, and management options at different regions, spatial scales, and biomes.
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The South Central U.S. is one of the main agricultural regions in North America: annual agricultural production is valued at more than $44 billion dollars. However, as climate conditions change, the region is experiencing more frequent and severe droughts, with significant impacts on agriculture and broader consequences for land management. For example, in 2011 drought caused an estimated $7.6 billion in agricultural losses in Texas and an additional $1.6 billion in Oklahoma. Although there are many drought monitoring tools available, most of these tools were developed without input from the stakeholders, such as farmers and ranchers, who are intended to use them. The goal of this project is to assess the information...
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The western coast of Alaska is a remote region, rich in wildlife and providing critical nesting habitat for many of Alaska’s seabirds. It is also home to indigenous communities who rely upon the region’s natural resources to support a traditional lifestyle of hunting, gathering, and fishing. Although the region is frequently subject to extensive inland flooding from Bering Sea storms, little is known about the extent and frequency of flooding and its impacts on vegetation, wildlife, and water quality. Furthermore, information is lacking about how climate change and sea-level rise (which can influence the frequency and intensity of storms and subsequent flooding) are affecting this area, its communities, and their...
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Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing natural resource management. The disruptions it is causing require that we change the way we consider conservation and resource management in order to ensure the future of habitats, species, and human communities. Practitioners often struggle with how to identify and prioritize specific climate adaptation actions (CAAs). Management actions may have a higher probability of being successful if they are informed by available scientific knowledge and findings; a systematic review process provides a mechanism to scientifically assess management questions. By evaluating specific actions on scientific knowledge and findings, we may be able to increase management...
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California’s Central Valley is a nexus for water resources in the state, draining the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds. Urban centers, agricultural operations, and the environment all compete for limited water, and demand is expected to only increase as the population grows and agriculture intensifies. At the same time, the water supply is projected to decrease as temperatures rise, precipitation patterns change, and the frequency of extreme droughts increases. The Central Valley also provides critical wetland habitats to migratory waterbirds, and wetland managers require information on how to best use water resources to support wildlife objectives, particularly during drought. This project seeks to...
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Wildfires scorched 10 million acres across the United States in 2015, and for the first time on record, wildfire suppression costs topped $2 billion. Wildfire danger modeling is an important tool for understanding when and where wildfires will occur, and recent work by our team in the South Central United States has shown wildfire danger models may be improved by incorporating soil moisture information. Advancements in wildfire danger modeling may increase wildfire preparedness, and therefore decrease loss of life, property, and habitat due to wildfire. Still, soil moisture—an important determinant of wildfire risk—is not currently used for wildfire danger assessments because data are generally unavailable at the...
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Wildfires are a natural occurrence in interior Alaska’s boreal forest. There is extreme variability in the severity of the wildfire season in this region. A single year in which more than one million acres of forest burns can be followed by several years of low to moderate fire activity. In addition, fires in high latitude zones appear to be responding to changes in climate. Warmer temperatures rapidly cure understory fuels, such as fast-drying beds of mosses, lichens, and shrubs, which lie beneath highly flammable conifer trees. Managing such variability is challenging in light of both changing climate conditions and the fact that planning activities require sufficient advance warning. The goal of this project...
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Forests across the southwestern U.S. are crucial components of recreation and play an important role in state and local economies. Healthy forests also provide needed habitat for many wildlife species and contribute many other important services to our planet. “Hotter droughts” (otherwise normal droughts whose effects on ecosystems are exacerbated by higher temperatures) are an emerging climate change threat to forests with some of their earliest and strongest appearances happening in the Southwest. The Leaf to Landscape project uses California’s unusually hot drought as a potential preview of the future, allowing us to collect information that will help guide forest management in the face of a warming climate....
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In the Northwest U.S., warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will likely result in significantly altered snowpack, stream flows, and water availability. Along with these changes comes an increased risk of “ecological drought”, or periods of water stress that impact ecosystems and the services they provide –which can ultimately impact human communities. More frequent and severe ecological droughts have the potential to push ecosystems beyond their ability to recover, resulting in complete changes in ecosystem composition and function. Ecological drought will only worsen existing management challenges, such as competition for water resources, habitat degradation, invasive species, and more frequent...
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The western coastline of Alaska is highly susceptible to coastal storms, which can cause erosion, flooding, and saltwater storm surge, affecting natural ecosystems, human communities, and commercial activity. Historically, a large buffer of ice along the shoreline has protected this region from some of the more severe effects of coastal storms. However, climate change may not only increase the frequency and intensity of storms, but also cause a loss of shoreline ice, possibly increasing the incidence of coastal erosion and flooding and introducing saltwater to freshwater environments. These hazards have the potential to substantially disrupt the environment and commerce in the region, but more information is needed...
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A large portion of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the Caribbean; however, our coasts are also home to many fish, wildlife, and plant species that are important for recreation, tourism, local economies, biodiversity, and healthy coastal ecosystems. Coastal habitats also provide protective ecosystem services to human communities, which are increasingly at risk to storms and sea level rise under future climate change. Understanding how climate change will impact natural and human communities is a crucial part of decision making and management related to the protection of our coasts. In a collaborative project between the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative...
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In the dry southwestern United States, snowmelt plays a crucial role as a water source for people, vegetation, and wildlife. However, snow droughts significantly lower snow accumulations, disrupting these critical water supplies for local communities and ecosystems. Despite its large influence on land- and water-resource management, snow drought has only recently been properly defined and its historical distribution and effects on key natural resources are essentially unknown. To remedy this serious knowledge gap, project researchers are examining the causes, effects, and forecastability of snow drought to provide needed scientific information and guidance to planners and decision makers. The central goals of...


map background search result map search result map Modeling Future Storm Impacts on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Modeling Western Alaska Coastal Hazards Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response Improving Representation of Extreme Precipitation Events in Regional Climate Models Community Resilience to Drought Hazard: An Analysis of Drought Exposure, Impacts, and Adaptation in the South Central U.S. Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S. Examining the Influence of Temperature and Precipitation on Colorado River Water Resources: Reconstructing the Past to Understand the Future The Available Science Assessment Process (ASAP): Evaluating the Science behind Climate Adaptation Actions The Impact of Drought on Waterbirds and Their Wetland Habitats in California’s Central Valley Identifying Critical Thresholds and Tipping Points for Priority Coastal Species in a Changing Future Leaf to Landscape: Understanding and Mapping the Vulnerability of Forests to Hotter Droughts Using Genetic Information to Understand Drought Tolerance and Bark Beetle Resistance in Whitebark Pine Forests Learning From Recent Snow Droughts To Improve Forecasting of Water Availability for People and Forests Wildfire Probability Mapping Based on Regional Soil Moisture Models Improving Characterizations of Future Wildfire Risk in Alaska Extremes to Ex-Streams: Informing Ecological Drought Adaptation in the Northwest Projecting Future Wildfire Activity in Alaska’s Boreal Forest Leaf to Landscape: Understanding and Mapping the Vulnerability of Forests to Hotter Droughts Predicting Sky Island Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change: Fine Scale Climate Variability, Drought Tolerance, and Fire Response Modeling Future Storm Impacts on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta The Impact of Drought on Waterbirds and Their Wetland Habitats in California’s Central Valley Examining the Influence of Temperature and Precipitation on Colorado River Water Resources: Reconstructing the Past to Understand the Future The Available Science Assessment Process (ASAP): Evaluating the Science behind Climate Adaptation Actions Extremes to Ex-Streams: Informing Ecological Drought Adaptation in the Northwest Projecting Future Wildfire Activity in Alaska’s Boreal Forest Modeling Western Alaska Coastal Hazards Wildfire Probability Mapping Based on Regional Soil Moisture Models Improving Representation of Extreme Precipitation Events in Regional Climate Models Community Resilience to Drought Hazard: An Analysis of Drought Exposure, Impacts, and Adaptation in the South Central U.S. Learning From Recent Snow Droughts To Improve Forecasting of Water Availability for People and Forests Developing Effective Drought Monitoring Tools for Farmers and Ranchers in the South Central U.S. Identifying Critical Thresholds and Tipping Points for Priority Coastal Species in a Changing Future Improving Characterizations of Future Wildfire Risk in Alaska