There is a complex relationship among wildfire (like this one burning in Oregon in 2017), drought, and snowpack. One of the three grants awarded to NCAR scientists by NOAA will be used to better quantify these relationships and improve their representation in models. via Jones Fire Incident Command Team.

USA - Grants Will Help Scientists Probe Droughts, Model Fisheries

NOAA-funded projects focus on climate variability

Three scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will lead research projects funded by a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that aims to improve our ability to better understand and predict climate variability in both the short and long term.

The research funded by the grants from NOAA’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projects (MAPP) program will explore how droughts in the U.S. West affect – and are affected by – complex interactions with wildfires and snowpack; identify the intertwined factors that influence how severe a drought and its impacts will become; and extend an Earth system model to allow it to explicitly simulate fish, providing valuable information on how fisheries respond to climate.


In the western United States, snowpack and wildfires have a complex relationship with droughts. The three elements interact with each other in ways that can amplify, or dampen, their impacts. For example, scientists have found that wildfires reduce vegetation cover. The sparser canopy then allows a thicker snowpack to build up on the ground, but it also enables more sunlight to reach the snow, causing it to melt out earlier in the spring. This can then lead to drought conditions in the late summer and fall, which in turn favors more wildfires.

NCAR scientist Cenlin He will lead a MAPP-funded project to better quantify these types of relationships among drought, snowpack, and wildfire. With that knowledge, he will also evaluate how well models capture these relationships with the goal of improving them.

“I am really excited about this research, which will provide the community with not only a deeper and more integrated understanding of droughts but also an enhanced community model for future drought-related modeling and research,” He said. “This will help to enhance the U.S. drought monitoring, warning, and prediction systems, benefiting related stakeholders and policymakers.”

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