Warmer winter air temperatures and lower precipitation has led to a mountain pine beetle epidemic resulting in unprecedented tree mortality in the Rocky Mountain region. It is estimated over 4 million acres of forests in Colorado and Wyoming have been affected by the ongoing mountain pine beetle infestation. The visual impact of dying and dead forests is stunning, but the invisible changes to the water cycle in vital watersheds in the Rocky Mountain west, including the Platte and Colorado River headwaters, may be a longer-lasting legacy of the mountain pine beetle. The ramifications of this disturbance on water resources and the necessary adaptations of watershed management and drinking water provision are not well understood. Beetle-killed trees may alter hydrologic and biogeochemical processes governing water quantity and quality in forested headwater catchments and can potentially affect ecological and human health.
To address these concerns, researchers from Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines are participating in this 5-year National Science Foundation study which began September 2012. The objective of the study is an improved scientific basis for managing watershed ecosystems in the Platte and Colorado River basins and an enhanced scientific and social understanding of the water supply and quantity challenges for MPB-affected areas across the Rocky Mountain West.
Our highly interdisciplinary research team is merging physical and social science analysis to increase our understanding and predictive capabilities for a critical problem facing society: changes to water availability and quality from an unprecedented disturbance to our forests.