Mark Williams Photo Credit: Joanna Nasar
INSTAAR scientist, professor and backcountry guru Mark Williams studies alpine environments. Research in the alpine means collecting data in freezing temperatures, facing avalanche danger (for the record Williams has survived two), forgoing the comforts of a lab and adapting equipment to withstand the extremes.
“Most people when they ski five miles are like ‘Wheres the wine? Wheres the cheese?’ But at that point you have just gotten to work, and you have to be comfortable doing that,” Williams said of research in difficult to reach high-elevation systems.
Over the years Williams has braved the conditions and pioneered new research techniques. “When I started people didn’t care about snow covered areas, but now we care for lots of different reasons,” he said.
Before becoming a scientist he owned and operated a backcountry ski lodge in Alaska and said, “I’ve had about every job, or most jobs you can to support yourself in the mountains.”
Williams rich life experience combined with his knowhow in the mountains has lead him to conduct interesting snow, nitrogen and water quality research in alpine environments.
"Ice Pattern on Lake Tahoe" Photo Credit: the_tahoe_guy
High above Boulder at the Niwot Ridge research center scientists have been monitoring the way climate change impacts the local ecosystems. They have found an increase in rain over the past 50 years.
“This increase has affected the physical processes of alpine lakes; lake-ice thickness measured in late March over a 20-year interval shows a marked decline, while temperatures over this interval have remained statistically unchanged,” the center found in its study available here: http://www.lternet.edu/currentfindings/nwt.html
Ice thickness on lakes has waned during winter months and more nitrogen has been introduced into the system.
Based on historic findings the researchs new model, “suggests that high-elevation lakes and tree line, which functions as a windbreak and collects snow, particulates, and nutrients, may be the locations that experience the first negative impacts of a variety of anthropogenic materials,” in this area.
Have you lived in Boulder or an alpine region in Colorado for awhile and noticed climate change or no change? Let me know in the comments section below.