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December 9, 2009
By Mike Wolterbeek
“Whether you believe in climate change or not, one thing’s for certain, there will be new targets for reduction of greenhouse gases coming out of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen,” Nevada State Climatologist and University of Nevada, Reno professor Jeff Underwood said.
Underwood, who is also a faculty member at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Program, will be attending next week as an official Observer Delegate at the conference in Denmark.
“In arid regions like the western United States people are very aware that our climate is fragile, there’s not a lot of room for change,” he said. “Even a slight shift in the temperature or precipitation climatology is very noticeable and could have uncomfortable consequences, so these kinds of meetings and policy discussions cause us to perk up our ears and listen more closely.”
As one of several thousand Observer Delegates worldwide, Underwood is in a position to listen and learn, to be the eyes of ears for the public as well as interact with the policy delegation with free access to the meetings and contact with policy delegates.
“Most observer delegates are there for a very specific purpose or issue that would affect their country,” he said. “My interest is to see the latest science and the predictions of North American hazards as well as provide feedback to the policy makers at the convention.”
Underwood is participating as a member of the 13-person Association of American Geographers delegation. He was chosen out of the organizations 10,000 members to attend.
“It’s fantastic for Nevada and the University that Jeff will be representing us through the AAG at the conference,” Jeff Thompson, dean of the College of Science said. “To participate in an important global event such as this exemplifies the stature, depth of knowledge and peer credibility of our climatology program under Jeff’s direction. We’re proud that he’s been recognized to get a first hand view and provide input on policies that could shape our world for years to come.”
“Here in the west we live on the margin – on the edge – with high elevation, hot and dry climate,” Underwood said. “Some climate change scenarios project higher temperatures and more evaporation in the arid west, some predict more liquid precipitation during our winter season. If we face either of these scenarios we will have to find new ways to store water for our growing population.”
Underwood explained that mountain regions rely on snowmelt runoff for water use into the summer season.
“Right now we rely on mountain snowpack in the Sierra and Rockies for water storage, if there are warmer temperatures at higher elevations that snowpack storage will diminish,” he said.
“In areas of the inter-mountain west with water use compacts like the Truckee River in northern Nevada and the Colorado River that supplies water to multiple users, the stress and fluctuations on over-allocated water systems could be quite noticeable. These impacts aren’t just limited to the U.S., every region of the world has its own set of potential impacts to evaluate.”
These types of scenarios will be the subject of debate at the climate conference, as well as how to meet new emission standards.
“With the outlook of new benchmarks for reducing greenhouse gases on the horizon from the climate conference, renewable energy research becomes even more important,” he said. “In Nevada, we’re on the forefront of research and industry development of non-carbon producing fuels.”
The University of Nevada, Reno has more than 60 research projects, many with industry partners, underway in its renewable energy center with 42 faculty and staff focusing on areas such as: geothermal power production; hydrogen fuel generation; biomass and biofuels production; solar energy; power grid analysis, operation and design; curriculum and outreach to industry and the community.
Underwood will be blogging with news and activities from the conference. The blog will be on the Nevada State Climate Office website. More information about the University of Nevada, Reno Renewable Energy Center.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place from December 7-18, 2009