Climate Variability & Change
Mountain regions around the world, including the San Juans, are showing impacts of climate change. Mean annual air temperatures in Southwestern Colorado have risen almost 2ºC in only three decades. MSI studies climate variability and documents trends over time. MSI investigates effects of climate on ecosystems and natural resources. MSI’s climate outreach interprets scientiﬁc information for stakeholders and provides expertise and assistance for climate preparedness planning.
Historically, air quality in the San Juan Mountains has been among the cleanest in the United States. However, concerns about mercury, ground-level ozone, nitrogen, and other pollutants are growing. Mercury concentrations in precipitation are alarmingly high and several water bodies have mercury ﬁsh consumption advisories. Ozone is approaching the limit for public health, and nitrogen levels in rain and snow are increasing. MSI ﬁlls data gaps by monitoring air pollution and its effects on environmental and human health. The Institute’s air quality outreach provides accurate, unbiased information to stakeholders and brings agencies, organizations, and individuals together in information-sharing and problem-solving forums.
Communities & Land Use Transitions
San Juan Mountain communities are in various stages of transition from mining, agriculture, and forestry to industries based upon tourism, recreation, oil and gas extraction, and amenity-led migration. The region will experience tremendous change over the next 50 years as human population continues to grow and demand for natural resources increases. Community and land managers will be faced with increasingly difficult planning and development decisions. MSI studies land use change, and effects on communities, natural resources, and ecosystems. The Institute also provides expertise to community projects that combine ecological, cultural, and economic sustainability goals.
Water & Snow
Mountains are the “water towers of the world.” In the Western U.S., 50 to 80 percent of the water supply originates in seasonal mountain snowpack. A growing challenge is maintaining aquatic ecosystem health while meeting human demand for water resources and ﬂood hazard protection. MSI studies the natural variability and human-caused change in water supply, water quality, and aquatic ecosystem health in the San Juan Mountains. MSI also supports snow science studies.
Ecosystems & Biodiversity
Mountain regions are characterized by complex topography, multiple ecological zones, and biological diversity. The complexity of the San Juan Mountain region – from semi-arid rangeland to the alpine zone – results in a diversity of ecosystem types in a relatively small geographical area. From the smallest microbes to the tallest trees, these diverse ecological systems provide people with products and ecological services. MSI studies ecosystem processes and biodiversity to understand the factors that regulate them. The Institute identifies linkages between ecosystems and delivery of ecological services to society; and develops tools that allow stakeholders to incorporate information about ecosystems and their societal value into decision-making.