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Floods In CNY, Droughts Out West; Syracuse University Professor Studies Water Availability And How It Relates To Climate Change

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Flooding rains in Central New York.  A first-ever federal declaration of a water shortage in the Colorado River.  A Syracuse University earth and environmental sciences professor is watching these extremes as they relate to climate change.  The professor’s work was recently cited in the recent UN Climate Report that sounded an even more urgent alarm for the ramifications of climate change.

Assistant professor Sam Tuttle describes his research this way.

"I consider myself a hydroclimatologist, meaning I study water, how it moves around the world, and how it interacts with the climate system."

OK, but can you be more specific?

"I'm interested in things like water availability...floods and droughts. I've been getting interested in snow recently."

Ah, yes, snow. He's in the right place for that. More about snow in a minute. Tuttle says the UN cited one of his papers relating soil moisture to rainfall.

"Basically asking the question: If the ground is wet, does that make it more or less likely to rain tomorrow? That has implications for extremely dry or extremely wet periods. If you have dry soil, the fact that the soil is dry makes it less likely to rain tomorrow, that can extend the drought periods versus shortening them."

That’s what he’s seen in the western U.S.; dry soil makes it less likely to rain. But the pattern is less pronounced in the eastern part of the country. Here, Tuttle says we’re likely to see more rain due to climate change.

"As the air temperature warms, the air can hold more moisture, and that can lead to more rain and bigger rain events."

The professor says while we’ll see more extreme heat, changes in temperatures will affect other seasons.

"We're going to be seeing decreases in the number of extremely cold periods. That comes with a decrease in snow cover and lake ice cover, which are obviously very important around here. Those are things that I'm interested in."

Tuttle says he’s only been here a year, so he’s still building out his research program to focus on how this region is being impacted by climate change.