Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

News from this year

News from this year

Modern River Piracy

The retreat of a massive Yukon glacier a mile up its valley has redirected meltwater from one river basin to another in the first modern case of “river piracy,” according to a new analysis by a team of researchers including Mike Willis, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Cleaning Up

Twenty-one scientists and family members patrolled the edges of highway 36 Saturday morning, using poker sticks to pick up scraps of plastic and old bottles, filling tough orange plastic trash bags with their findings.

As US Drilling Surged, Methane Emissions Didn’t

A new NOAA-led study shows that methane emissions from the United States did not grow significantly from 2000 to 2013 and are not likely to have been an important driver of the increase in atmospheric methane levels observed worldwide after 2007, as other studies have suggested.

Arctic Sea Ice Max at Record Low for Third Straight Year

Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the third straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.

The Crowd & The Cloud Series Features CIRES Director

There’s a revolution happening in science. Enabled by smartphones, computers and mobile technology, regular people are observing their environments, monitoring neighborhoods and collecting information about the world and the things they care about. These so-called “citizen scientists” are the focus of a 4-part public television series premiering in April, THE CROWD & THE CLOUD, hosted and narrated by CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati. 

SnowEx: Science Supporting Water Management

Dozens of scientists headed into Colorado’s high country by ski, snowshoe, snow machine, and aircraft in February 2017. The snow physicists, data experts, hydrologists, and others kicked off NASA’s multi-year SnowEx mission with its singular overarching goal: Figure out the most accurate, reliable way to measure the water content in snow—from space. 

NOAA Instruments Aid Forecasters During Epic California Winter

Lives have been lost, and roads and property damaged this winter as a number of storms battered northern California, causing record precipitation as well as numerous floods, mudslides, and debris flows.

Kristen Averyt to head Desert Research Institute

Kristen Averyt, CIRES associate director for science, will serve as the next president of Nevada's Desert Research Institute, effective July 1.

Preparing for the Worst

Flood, drought, fire, blizzard, tornado: these are but a few of the natural hazards faced by communities around the western United States. But rather than wait for federal or state officials to lead the way, it’s cities that are really taking action in dealing with these kinds of hazards.

When Good Ozone Goes Bad

Late spring and early summer is when the air quality is generally good across most of the United States. But for the desert southwest, newly published NOAA research details how a common springtime weather pattern and pollution transported from Asia often conspire to create unhealthy ozone levels.

Highlights of CIRES Science at the American Meteorological Society

Talks and posters by CIRES scientists, events and more: CIRES@ #AMS2017

Above-Ground Air Monitoring Takes Flight This Winter

Utah's Division of Air Quality and partners, including researcher from NOAA and CIRES, are studying Salt Lake City's winter particulate pollution from aboard a Twin Otter.

Anne Perring Receives Presidential Honor

President Obama has named CIRES Anne Perring, an atmospheric scientist who works at NOAA in Boulder, as one of 102 young scientists and engineers to receive the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

What’s Cooking in Ghana?

Close to half the world’s population cooks over an open fire every day. That’s hard on human health—people cooking over an open fire breathe in smoke and gases that can damage their lungs.

On the Origin of Life in the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are home to a tremendous diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. But why this is, and when it all began, remains something of an open question.

Closer Collaborations Between Scientists, Data Users Aim to Improve Decision Making

Scientists are increasingly forming tight partnerships with water managers, community leaders, risk managers and other decision makers, collaborating in the actual design of research. Such “co-produced science” not only improves decisions, but can help scientists generate knowledge that has broader impact than a scientific paper. CIRES' Jeff Deems is one of hundreds presenting on "co-produced science" at AGU. 

Faster Than the Speed of Ice

Glaciers and ice sheets move in unique and sometimes surprising patterns, according to a new method that uses satellite images to provide a near-real-time view of flowing ice in Greenland, Antarctica and mountain ranges around the world. With imagery and data from Landsat 8, scientists including from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (part of CIRES at CU Boulder) are mapping the flow speed for every large glacier and ice sheet on Earth, and making it available in near-real-time, online.

CIRES Science at #AGU16

Talks and posters by CIRES scientists, events and more CIRES @ #AGU16

Sea Ice Hit Record Lows in November

Unusually high air temperatures and a warm ocean have led to a record low Arctic sea ice extent for November, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctic sea ice extent also hit a record low for the month, caused by moderately warm temperatures and a rapid shift in circumpolar winds.

Fire Starters

On October 1, top chemistry researchers from around the country came to Missoula, Montana, to light stuff on fire. They converged at an old building that looked like a mad scientist’s warehouse. Inside, they helped each other set up millions of dollars worth of instruments. Wind tunnels weaved in and out of the walls, and a rickety elevator ferried researchers to the top of a giant smoke funnel. These scientists were kicking off a multi-year mission called FIREX—Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment, to better understand the air quality and climate effects of fire—in the controlled environment of the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Sciences Laboratory (Fire Lab).

Ancient History

CIRES Visiting Fellow Adam Schneider uses environmental archaeology to understand how changes of climate affected people in the ancient Middle East and North Africa.

Distant Impacts: Smoke, Dust from Pacific Northwest Fires affect Colorado's Air Quality

During poor air quality days in Denver last year, scientists found that specks of mineral dust swept into the region along with smoke from Pacific Northwest wildfires, they report in a new study published in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Both smoke and mineral dust have consequences not only for health, but also for climate.

Pollution Emitted Near Equator has Biggest Impact on Global Ozone

Since the 1980s, air pollution has increased worldwide, but it has increased at a much faster pace in regions close to the equator. 

Polar Bear Season

Four CIRES researchers, including CIRES Fellow Jen Kay, head north, to the Arctic tundra near Churchill, Canada, just in time to see the local polar bears as they congregate on the shores of Hudson Bay.

NOAA-Led Work Could Improve Air Quality, Climate Modeling

The United States and the European Union take markedly different approaches to vehicle emissions controls, and the evidence is in the air, according to a new study.

Just Who Lives With You?

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Colorado Boulder used DNA testing and citizen science to create an “atlas” that shows the range and diversity of arthropods found in homes across the continental United States.

Stone Walls, Railway Lines and Carbon Fibers Record Turkey's Westward Drift

In February 1944, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake shook a sparsely populated region of central Anatolia in Turkey. Within hours, the steel rails of the Ankara-Istanbul railroad began to distort. By the next day, they had been misaligned by more than 13 feet as a result of slip on the North Anatolian Fault, a fault with many similarities to the San Andreas Fault in California.

The "Fingerprint" of Feedlots

Gathering accurate, big-picture information on emissions from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) is no easy task.

Study Finds Fossil Fuel Methane Emissions Greater than Previously Estimated

Methane emissions from fossil fuel development around the world are up to 60 percent greater than estimated by previous studies, according to new research led by scientists from CIRES and NOAA.

Planetary Tomography

By dissecting the sloshing signals of ocean tides recorded by magnetic satellites high above the Earth, a team of international researchers has managed to produce interior images of our planet, the scientists reported today in the journal Science Advances. Their proof-of-concept work could transform scientists’ ability to image and understand what lies below Earth’s crust, and could even help them remotely probe the interiors of other celestial bodies with tidal saltwater, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa

Wastewater Injection and Induced Seismicity

An increase in earthquake activity is occurring in areas of the eastern and central U.S., areas where unprecedented volumes of wastewater, produced along with oil and gas, are being disposed of, by injection, into deep geological formations. A new study, out today in Science, provides strong evidence of the link between oil and gas wastewater disposal and earthquakes in Texas.


Losing Its Cool

Measuring just how much mass a glacier is losing—through melting and calving—is no easy task. While there’s plenty of satellite data from space, scientists haven’t had access to much local, on-the-ground observation, which is the sort of information that’s necessary to more accurately measure glacial mass loss. But now a team of scientists, including CIRES’ Mike Willis, have put a series of GPS systems in place that give them the kind of data they need. Using that information, they find that previous estimates of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet—already known to be shrinking—may be underestimates. 

2016 Ties 2007 for Second Lowest Arctic Sea Ice Minimum

The Arctic’s ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent on September 10, 2016, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of CIRES and CU Boulder. Arctic sea ice extent on that day stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles), statistically tied at second lowest in the satellite record with the 2007 minimum

Indigenous Knowledge at International Data Week

Welcome to the first ever International Data Week! This event, which runs September 11-17, brings together data scientists, researchers and policy makers in exploring how to take advantage of the data revolution and use all that information to benefit society. Among the participants this year is the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA). 

Preventing Human-Caused Earthquakes

While the earthquake that rumbled below Colorado’s eastern plains May 31, 2014, did no major damage, its occurrence surprised both Greeley residents and local seismologists. The earthquake happened in an area that had seen no seismic activity in at least four decades, according to a new analysis by a team of Colorado researchers. It was likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground—and, the team concluded, quick action taken by scientists, regulators, and industry may well have reduced the risk of of larger quakes in the area.

Putting Science to Work

Using seed grant money from CU, CIRES' WWA is working with Earth Lab to develop workshops and a class on usable science. With usable science, scientists have a better understanding of how their research will be used and the people using the research have their needs addressed. Essentially, it’s more about shaping the research agenda with those who are affected by a particular issue, rather than just handing them the results of a study.


Methane leaks: A new way to find and fix in real time

Researchers have flown aircraft over an oil and gas field and pinpointed—with unprecedented precision—sources of the greenhouse gas methane in real time.

Accounting for Ozone

The first peer-reviewed study to directly quantify how emissions from oil and gas activities influence summertime ozone pollution in the Colorado Front Range confirms that chemical vapors from oil and gas activities are a significant contributor to the region’s chronic ozone problem.

Greenland and the Legacy of Camp Century

Camp Century, a U.S. military base built within the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959, doubled as a top-secret site for testing the feasibility of deploying nuclear missiles from the Arctic during the Cold War.

Reconstructing Arctic History

There's little doubt that Arctic sea ice is shrinking, but a new study looking back to the 1850s reveals that today's ice loss is unprecedented in extent and rate.

CIRES' Jen Kay Wins NSF Early Career Award

University of Colorado Boulder atmospheric scientist Jennifer Kay has been honored with a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, worth more than $800,000

Study: As Alaska Warms, Methane Emissions Appear Stable

Analysis of nearly three decades of air samples from Alaska’s North Slope show little change in long-term methane emissions despite significant Arctic warming over that time period, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters

Mounting Tension in the Himalaya

During the Gorkha earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, only part of the fault ruptured, below-ground. A new study finds the other part remains locked, accumulating further strain on that segment of the fault. 

Milky Way Now Hidden from One-Third of Humanity

The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is just a faded memory for one third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans, according to a new global atlas of light pollution produced by Italian and American scientists.

New Study: Arctic Sea Ice Loss Likely Not a Factor in Recent Northern Hemisphere Cold Winters

Arctic sea ice loss is a major factor behind the warming Arctic, but melting sea ice is probably not behind recent cold winters in parts of Europe, Asia, and the United States, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Climate Change’s Likely Role in Kidney Disease Epidemics

Global warming will likely exacerbate epidemics of chronic kidney disease seen recently in hot, rural regions of the world, according to a new assessment by an international team of researchers, including two from the University of Colorado Boulder. 

North Dakota’s Bakken Oil and Gas Field Leaking 275,000 Tons of Methane per Year

The Bakken oil and gas field is leaking a lot of methane, but less than some satellites report and less than the latest Environmental Protection Agency inventory for petroleum systems, according to the researchers’ calculations. That's the finding of the first field study measuring emissions of this potent greenhouse gas from the Bakken, which spans parts of North Dakota and Montana. The work was published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

World’s Shallowest Slow-Motion Earthquakes Detected Offshore of New Zealand

Research published in the May 6 edition of Science indicates that slow-motion earthquakes or “slow-slip events” can rupture the shallow portion of a fault that also moves in large, tsunami-generating earthquakes. The finding has important implications for assessing tsunami hazards. The discovery was made by conducting the first-ever detailed investigation of centimeter-level seafloor movement at an offshore subduction zone.

Making The Instruments That Help Make The Science

The Integrated Instrument Development Facility (IIDF) may be in the basement of the CIRES building, but there’s a whole world of invention and innovation happening down there as a group of instrument designers, glass blowers, electronics experts and machinists design, build and test scientific instruments for CIRES, the chemistry department and the wider CU Boulder community. 

Will Droughts Turn the Amazon into a Giant Source of Carbon Emissions?

As climate change increases temperatures and alters rainfall patterns across South America, will Amazonian rainforests shift from a carbon sponge to a carbon source?

One Oil Field a Key Culprit in Global Ethane Gas Increase

A single U.S. shale oil field is responsible for much of the past decade’s increase in global atmospheric levels of ethane, a gas that can damage air quality and impact climate, according to new study led by the University of Michigan, with CIRES and NOAA co-authors.

From The Archives: Crowdsourcing Earth's Magnetic Field

Happy May—Bike to School and Bike to Work days fall in this month! Back in December 2014, we wrote about CrowdMag, a new citizen science effort that has geophysicists asking smart phone users around the world for help mapping Earth’s magnetic field. In honor of spring's cyclists and walkers, who collect terrific magnetic data, we're reposting an adapted version of this earlier story and hoping to get new citizen scientists on board!

Islands Face A Drier Future

In a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, a new way of modeling the effects of climate change on islands shows that previous analyses underestimated the number of islands that would become substantially more arid by mid century–73 percent, up from an estimate of 50 percent. That puts an increasing amount of pressure on millions of humans and vital ecosystems that are both facing the brunt of the effects of climate change and underrepresented in global climate models.

Rethinking Induced Seismicity

A survey of a major oil and natural gas-producing region in Western Canada suggests there may be a link between induced earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, not just wastewater injection, according to a new report out this week in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

Arctic Sea Ice Maximum

Arctic sea ice was at a record low maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder and NASA.

Antarctica's "Upside-Down Rivers"

“Upside-down rivers” of warm ocean water threaten the stability of floating ice shelves in Antarctica, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center published today in Nature Geoscience. The study highlights how parts of Antarctica’s ice sheet may be weakening due to contact with warm ocean water.

Raina Gough Joins NASA’s Mars Rover Science Team

NASA has selected CU Boulder researcher Raina Gough to join the Mars Curiosity rover mission as a participating scientist; she hopes to expand the science team’s search for evidence of liquid water. In the laboratory, Dr. Gough and her colleagues have shown that a process called deliquescence may create briny liquids under conditions likely to exist, in certain times and places, on Mars’ surface.

History On Ice

The American Geophysical Union invited CIRES research associate William Colgan and six team members, including CIRES director Waleed Abdalati, to compile and synthesize decades worth of research on glacier crevasses, to highlight overarching key concepts and new research directions. Their review paper has just been published in Reviews of Geophysics.

When Less Is More

Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) is an ozone-depleting chemical that's been largely banned for many years. The chemical is still released into the air in fairly small amounts here in the United States, but a new study from CIRES and NOAA reports those rates are still 100 times higher than expected, on average. 

2015 California Blowout Led to Largest U.S. Methane Release Ever

First published study since Aliso Canyon well was plugged shows leak was equivalent to one-quarter of Los Angeles’ annual methane pollution

Gijs de Boer Receives Presidential Honor

Boulder’s Gijs de Boer, 36, (pictured above in orange) is one of 106 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. He is being recognized “for fundamental contributions to the understanding and modeling of Arctic atmosphere."

Where Clouds and Particles Meet Climate

New research from a team of NOAA-led scientists proposes a totally new approach to understanding how tiny particles in the atmosphere and clouds interact—and that understanding those interactions is critical if you want to know how clouds in turn impact climate.

Rapid, Affordable Energy Transformation Possible

The United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand, according to a new study by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

CU Boulder Team Discovers Surprising Waves in Antarctic Atmosphere

University of Colorado Boulder researchers who have spent thousands of hours observing the atmosphere high above Antarctica have discovered a previously unknown class of wave that ripples constantly through the atmosphere, likely affecting high-level winds, climate, and even Earth-based communications systems.

AMS 2016

CIRES scientists are lead authors and co-authors on dozens of papers being presented at the 96th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans, Louisiana this week. Linked are a few highlights, by day.

Greenland's "Sponge" Affected By Atmospheric Warming

A new study of snow and firn layers high on the Greenland ice sheet shows that recent atmospheric warming is changing the ability of near-surface firn layers to store meltwater, which can result in a faster release of runoff from the ice sheet.