We know the Earth is warming. We know that will stress water in the West. But we don’t know how. | VailDaily.com

We know the Earth is warming. We know that will stress water in the West. But we don’t know how.

Two critical, big picture questions loom: How much snow will fall in the mountains and how much water will there be for the region’s forests, farms and cities.

Mark Jaffe
The Colorado Sun
A roaring stream that feeds the Rio Grande River passes through the remnants of snow melt, still lingering into late July, in the South San Juan mountains of south central Colorado.
Dean Krakel | Special to The Colorado Sun

Flavio Lehner was a graduate student working with computer models simulating the Earth’s climate at the University of Berne in Switzerland when he had a chance to join a research vessel collecting sea temperatures and measuring ocean currents between Greenland and Svalbard, Norway.

“As a lifestyle, field work is very agreeable,” Lehner said. “But for me, it was a watershed moment. I had to decide which way to go.” 

Was it to be a life in the real world of ocean voyages or mathematical abstractions?

“They had been measuring ocean currents for 10 years,” Lehner said. “In real-world data collection, you look at one fraction of the Earth for a long time. With models, you can look at the big-picture questions.”

Two of those big-picture questions are how much snow will fall on the mountains of the West and how much water will be available for the region’s forests, farms and cities in a world growing warmer as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere.

Today, Lehner, 35, and his colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, are trying to divine answers through a welter of mathematical calculations designed to reflect how the world works.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

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