National Science Foundation Grant Funding
Department Awarded $15 Million Grant
Dr. Von Walden of the Department of Geography has been awarded federal funding to study the impact of climate change on water resources and agriculture in Idaho
The five-year, $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation will support research into impacts of climate change along the Snake and Salmon River watersheds
In the largest federal grant ever received by the University of Idaho, the five-year, $15 million award will support new faculty and facilities at the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University in an effort to understand the current and future impact of climate change on the Snake and Salmon River watersheds.
It is the future that has scientists worried, sparking the new project on the effects of climate change on water resources in Idaho. According to Von P. Walden, associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho and lead co-principal investigator, the project will focus on the effects of global warming on two very different watersheds in the state. The Snake River Plain is a highly managed water resource that feeds agriculture and communities throughout the southern part of Idaho, while the Salmon River Basin is much less managed and contains some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the continental U.S.
“It is critical that we understand how different scenarios of future climate change might impact both managed and natural watersheds here in Idaho,” said Von Walden, associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho. “A big component of this project is to effectively communicate our scientific results to decision makers and water users, so that they can ensure adequate water for future generations of Idahoans.”
University of Idaho researchers will be involved in all three major research components of the grant: hydroclimatology, ecological interactions, and economics and water policy. Richard Allen, a research faculty member at the University of Idaho’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center, will focus on hydroclimatology and will be working with a team to investigate possible changes in surface and groundwater under different climate change scenarios.
“We need a better understanding of how surface and groundwater are connected. We’ll be looking at how groundwater might be used sustainably to get us through periods of future drought. This is a national issue that we can study right here in Idaho,” Allen said.
The three universities will work closely with the Idaho Department of Water Resources and other agencies, which will provide valuable input.
“Idaho State University has conducted decades of research in the Salmon River Basin that provide a long-term perspective on how it has changed and how it may be affected by climate change,” said Colden Baxter, an expert in ecology and assistant professor of biological sciences at Idaho State University’s Stream Ecology Center.
“Some parts of our state already have shown effects of changing climate, and much of our state, according to some climate models, is projected to be greatly affected by climate change,” Baxter continued. “There is a big, red bull's-eye on our area because it is expected to be strongly effected in various ways by changing climate."
“This grant is an excellent example of how the state of Idaho can serve as a natural laboratory,” said Jack McIver, University of Idaho vice president for research. “It also illustrates how scientists from different disciplines and institutions can come together to tackle today’s greatest challenges.”
According to Siân Mooney, lead scientist at Boise State University, one of the unique aspects of the team is the collaboration of “hard” sciences with economics. Mooney believes a broad multidisciplinary approach is vital to understanding how climate changes have affected both watersheds now and in the future and is essential for creating effective economic and environmental policies. These changes, said Mooney, could affect opportunities for power generation, agricultural production and irrigation as well as community growth.
"This research builds on research already being done here at Boise State and brings all of our partners together on a topic that is immediately relevant to our everyone in the region," said Mooney. "You can’t really address the impact of climate change in southern Idaho without discussing its impact on agriculture. It’s this kind of interdisciplinary focus that will make this study compelling, timely and impactful."
Together, the team of scientists plans to draw on Idaho’s natural advantages and its best and brightest to take on one of the state’s biggest challenges.
“Scientific research has shifted from whether or not global warming is occurring to what effects it will have in both the short and long term,” said Walden. “We have to learn how best to mitigate the effects and adapt to a changing world.”
University of Idaho faculty, including: Von Walden, associate professor of gegoraphy, Jean’ne Shreeve, Idaho EPSCoR/IDeA project director and professor of chemistry, Richard Allen, a member of University of Idaho’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center and more. Faculty members at Boise State University and Idaho State University are also participating in this research effort.
Visit the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research website to learn more about this ground-breaking research project.
Professor Walden teaches courses in meteorology, climatology and global climate change. His research focuses on understanding polar climates. He recently spent seven months in Switzerland working with the French to conduct experiments on the surface energy balance in the Swiss Alps.
His next project will take him to the ice sheets of Greenland.