Friday, October 26, 2007

University of Arizona research to improve drought monitoring

University of Arizona News: A young faculty member in The University of Arizona atmospheric sciences department will help Arizona gauge drought in the context of past climate with a grant awarded by the University's Arizona Water Sustainability Program.

"The goal is to monitor drought retrospectively," Assistant Professor Christopher L. Castro said. "We'll use climate records, such as records on precipitation and temperature, and records from local stakeholders -- for example, agriculture and other water resource interests -- to build 'customized' drought indices. The unique thing about this focus is that we'll analyze different time scales of drought, which is important depending on who you are."

Castro's grant, and several other projects recently funded by the Arizona Water Sustainability Program, comes from the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, known as TRIF. TRIF is supported by Proposition 301, an initiative that Arizona voters passed in 2000 to funnel taxes directly into the state's schools and universities in the areas of optics, biotechnology, information technology and water. The 2007-2008 water sustainability projects are listed online at

Recent multiyear drought has heightened government concern about possible water shortages, especially in rural areas, Castro said. "Arizona is a very arid state, and also a very fast-growing state, so it is uniquely vulnerable to weather and climate extremes. This project aims to evaluate short- and long-term drought indicators and relate them to quantifiable impacts that affect strategic decisions by Arizona stakeholders."

Castro's "Arizona Drought Monitoring Sensitivity and Verification Analyses" project is designed to validate and improve Arizona's status reporting system, provide drought information to guide water policymakers, and complete the first step toward developing regional drought prediction capability.

....His research at the UA focuses on understanding the physical dynamics of summer climate in the U.S. Southwest and developing models for improved regional climate prediction. "There is such a critical need in this state to come up with improved forecasts on seasonal time scales for various stakeholders who depend on climate information," Castro said. "In terms of climate-change projection, there are a lot of scary scenarios that have been published in the literature regarding what's going to happen with Arizona's climate in the future. But those predictions are based on coarse-resolution general circulation models, which can't even simulate some basic processes of Arizona climate, for example, the summer monsoon," he said...

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