We (the entire McGlynn lab: Fabian Nippgen, me, Brian McGlynn, John Mallard, Christa Kelleher, Erin Seybold, and Maggie Zimmer) recently traveled to the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown WV to attend the CUAHSI (Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrological Sciences) biannual colloquium. The woods of the lower Shenandoah valley were an excellent backdrop for a three day program based on the theme of ‘Water across the critical zone: scaling from local to global hydrology’.
Monday morning Jay Famiglietti from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory gave the keynote speech. The first day of a conference is always brimming with fresh minds and eager ears, but his presentation was unique. In addition to presenting a comprehensive view of changing water resources, he reminded us how important it is for us to contribute on key water issues where we have expertise, and to ask ourselves what our role in science communication is. He has contributed in this way by presenting numerous TED talks, having a strong presence on twitter, and by being a scientific resource for the new feature length film ‘Dam Nation’. For the purposes of scaling to global hydrology, he presented the uses and opportunities of the GRACE satellite. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) maps changes in earth’s gravity field, which is mainly driven by the redistribution of water. The results he presented are summarized really well in his 2013 Science paper, with the gist being that we have observed wet places getting wetter, and dry place getting dryer (His comprehensive post for Nat Geo here). In their most recent paper they show that the Colorado River Basin lost enough water between 2004 and 2013 to fill two Lake Meads, the largest reservoir in the United States. A significant finding being that during this severe drought 75% of the water lost was due to groundwater depletion. This is a resource that has been depleted in front of our eyes in California (San Joaquin Valley), and in the mid-west (Ogallala Aquifer). Over 2 billion people rely on groundwater for drinking and agriculture, yet, it is poorly monitored, and there are often no regulations on its use (a great post on how/why we should be monitoring and managing our water better ).
Image showing subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley, CA.
From: Impacts of land subsidence caused by withdrawal
of underground fluids in the United States Reviews in
Engineering Geology, 2005.
The second highlight of the conference was the screening of ‘Chasing Ice’ a documentary of the trials and tribulations of James Balog’s efforts to document the worlds diminishing glaciers. The difficulties of getting electronics to work in harsh conditions definitely struck home to those of us that have called our sub alpine watershed (TCEF) home in the springtime. The combination of this excellent film and a high quality presentation, by an impressively engaged scientist did just what I needed this conference to do- inspire and motivate. I am continually impressed with the different ways that people contribute to the distillation and dissemination of environmentally and culturally relevant information. With that said, it should not go unnoticed that our advisor, Brian McGlynn, did an excellent job of crafting the program for this years CUASHI.