Western Mountain Initiative: Central Rocky Mountains

Research Project: 


Project Manager: 

Western Mountain Initiative: Central Rocky Mountains, Photo Credit to Jill Baron, USGS.
Western Mountain Initiative: Central Rocky Mountains, Loch Vale research. Photo Credit to Jill Baron, USGS.

Mountain ecosystems of the western U.S. provide irreplaceable goods and services such as water, wood, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities, but their responses to anticipated climatic changes are poorly understood. The overarching objective of the Western Mountain Initiative (WMI) is to understand and predict the responses, emphasizing sensitivities, thresholds, resistance, and resilience, of Western mountain ecosystems to climatic variability and change.

The effects of climate change are now apparent in nearly all western mountain landscapes, including the Central Rockies of Colorado. As part of the long-term monitoring program in Loch Vale Watershed, Rocky Mountain National Park, we have been tracking and interpreting trends in meteorology, precipitation chemistry, hydrology, forest health, and water quality since 1983. Monitoring is the foundation upon which our research questions are based, and allows us to address mechanisms by which biogeochemical and biological processes are influenced by nitrogen deposition, climate change, and their interactions. Our specific research questions, described in more detail below, are:

  1. What is the range of responses in headwater stream biogeochemistry and microbial activity to glacier and rock glacier recession?
  2. What are the physiological mechanisms that underlie aquatic microbial responses to warming and nitrogen deposition?
  3. How do warming and nitrogen deposition influence soil microbial processing of soil organic matter?
  4. How is climate change affecting alpine lake productivity and trophic state?
  5. How is climate change affecting soil moisture, hillslope and stream hydrology?
  6. How are montane and subalpine forests responding to warming, disturbance, and different forest management strategies?
  7. What are the most effective means of sharing information with resource managers to help them prepare for and adapt to climate change?

Watershed research, including in Loch Vale watershed, has been a continuous focus since the early 80's. Through the monitoring of biological, biogeochemical, and hydrological change and evaluation of the landscape, researchers assist in projecting climate change impacts and trends. A shared vision and approach to managing our resources will help build resilience to climate change.