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Monitoring & Modeling Mountain Air Temperatures in the Northwest U.S. and Canada
Surface air temperature variation is central to our understanding of climate and is a primary driver of a range or hydrologic and ecological processes. Climatic variation with terrain (“topoclimate”) can be quite large in regions of complex topography. The USFS has initiated an interagency effort to monitor surface air temperature variation in mountainous regions of the western US. Networks of inexpensive air temperature sensors have been deployed in forested areas across a range of topographic settings. This collaboration between the Rocky Mountain Research Station and USFS Region 1 fire management is funded for 3 years and will sample air temperatures at more than 2000 sites across the Northern Rockies. The long-term goal of the project is to develop partnerships with other state and federal agencies and existing monitoring programs in order to develop a more sustainable mountain air temperature monitoring program. High spatial resolution air temperature data have been used to develop methods for downscaling weather observations and gridded General Circulation Model data sets to the scale of terrain. These historical and future projections are being used to develop high-resolution wildfire danger forecasting models and to improve our understanding of species occurrence, growth and productivity in mountainous regions of the west. Co-location of air temperature sensors with stream temperature monitoring sites will facilitate a better understanding of how warming temperatures will differentially influence summer stream temperatures. Links to related projects that will integrate these data can be found below.
Fire danger rating systems commonly ignore fine scale, topographically-induced weather variations. These variations create heterogeneous fuel moisture and fire danger conditions across the landscape. By understanding and modeling fine-scale fuel moistures and potential energy release of fuels, we should be able to improve our understanding of the potential behavior and effects of wildfires. Development of improved, higher spatial resolution wildfire danger forecasting tools will ultimately improve our ability to use fire as a management tool and improve firefighter safety.
Patti Koppenol, USFS Region 1 Fire & Aviation Management
Bill Avey, USFS Region 1 Fire & Aviation Management
Modeling the distribution of trees and shrubs in the Northern Rocky Mountains
Temperature and precipitation strongly influence the occurrence and productivity of vegetation. However, modeling these variables at fine scales poses a major challenge in complex topography. Using models derived from dense networks of air temperature and humidity sensors, we are developing improved biophysical layers with which to predict occurrence and regeneration of trees and shrubs across USFS Region 1 (Idaho, Montana) and southern Canada. High spatial resolution predictions of species occurrence will help address questions about how to better manage forests in variable and changing climates.