Western Climate and Water

PSD postdocs present research at 'mini workshop'

PSD postdocs Galina Guentchev, Imtiaz Rangwala, and Kelly Mahoney on their way to Colorado's Fraser Experimental Forest. Photo by Robert Webb, NOAA

Katy Human, Winter 2009

It's hard enough to figure out, in a too-short, two-year fellowship, how precipitation in the Colorado River Basin has varied historically, and how that variability may change with future warming. But ESRL Physical Sciences Division (PSD) postdoctoral researcher Galina Guentchev wants to push her research work even further.

"I want to do a better job relating my results to the needs of the people who are sponsoring my research, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR)," Guentchev said. "I would like to be able to tell them what this variability means in terms of streamflow, and put it into a hydrological model."

Guentchev is one of four ESRL postdocs working on western water and climate issues this year, with support from NOAA's Climate Program Office, USBR, SNWA, and the National Research Council.

Joe Barsugli (PSD and CIRES) organized a mid-November "mini-workshop" for the four postdocs, and he invited water management professionals with the Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies, to attend and help the young researchers refine their research plans.

After Guentchev presented her project, Imtiaz Rangwala discussed his proposal to dissect elevation-dependent warming in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River. "I'd like to improve our understanding of what's happening—in terms of past and future climate change—at elevations above 9,000 feet," Rangawala said.

Kelly Mahoney described her goal to better understand how climate change will affect extreme precipitation events and therefore dam operations in the West. And Stephanie McAfee discussed how she plans to use tree-ring data and physiological plant models to investigate what appears to be accelerating tree mortality across the West. "We will be asking if today's events really are unique or unprecedented, or if they are widescale and jarring, but also standard," McAfee said.

Kristen Averyt, deputy director of NOAA/University of Colorado Western Water Assessment, praised the young scientists for tackling societal challenges in their research. "It's all about making science useful and getting it into the hands of people who are making decisions."

"This is a great lesson for NOAA, as it struggles to define the role of research in a national climate service," added PSD's Robert Webb.