Studies in paleoclimatology in Rocky Mountains

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Warming in Wyoming now rivals time

when glaciers vanished from Rockies 

LARAMIE, Wyo. — If the 1930s were also hot, last year was one for the record books in large portions of the West. But more important is how this fits in with 30 years of steady heating, says Bryan Shuman, an associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Wyoming.

The current warming, he told  the Jackson Hole News&Guide, in advance of a lecture there, is comparable to that which occurred when the last ice age ended abruptly 11,000 years ago. But unlike that time, change in the sun’s radiation and the Earth’s orbit do not explain the current warming. The only probable explanation is the fossil fuels being burned, sending heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Much of that carbon comes from underground in Wyoming, particularly from coal.

“We really are experiencing meaningful change,” he told the newspaper. “It’s impossible to explain how this state became warmer without saying carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases played a part in the warming.”

Shuman runs a paleoclimate and paleoecology lab, which means he and his students examine past climates and the vegetation and animals that inhabited those times.

On his website, Shuman explains that the last 30 years have been exceptional warm, but  2012 was an extreme even among the recent years.

His examination of the past  shows that Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states have historically experienced extended periods of drought.

North Platte River at Douglas, Wyoming, during flood stage 2011.

North Platte River at Douglas, Wyoming, during flood stage 2011.

Tree-ring data from the Colorado River Basin has revealed extended periods of drought, lasting several decades, 1,000 years ago. But by studying the evidence of how lakes in the mountain headwaters have changed, he and his students believe that dry periods of the deeper past exceeded the severity of these megadroughts. Since the glaciers receded, dry periods have persisted for centuries, even millennia.

Nor are these small changes. In the mountains along the Colorado-Wyoming border, Shuman found evidence that lakes have dropped 30 per cent or more during the last 4,500 years.

In other words, what we think of as average won’t necessarily stay that way. The climate is usually on the move, and this time we’re juicing the change with a double latte of greenhouse gases.

 

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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One Response to Studies in paleoclimatology in Rocky Mountains

  1. angelo minuti says:

    Read this article and the article published in this mornings Denver Post Perspective. Why are all front range writers ignoring the fact that fracking is not only contributing to global warming and using millions of gallons of water to provide more fossil fuels that are being wasted daily by the American public? What is more important air, crops, live stock and water than fossil fuels? This reader would like to see an answer to this query from some known writer such as Allen Best. The editorial staff at the Post ignore this critical thinking whenever I write to them.

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