Climate change warms up CSU budget
FORT COLINS - In an era of climate change, Colorado State University is experiencing a steady downpour of research funds to help study and mitigate environmental challenges to the planet.
This past October, the U.S. Department of the Interior selected CSU as the hub of one of eight regional Climate Science Centers being established around the country. The university will anchor a consortium of nine universities and research laboratories across the northern Rockies and Great Plains, dedicated to providing government resource managers with answers on some of the most pressing questions related to climate change.
Research programs through the initiative will study the impacts on water supplies, agricultural and livestock production, fish and wildlife management, and the spread of invasive species and pests and diseases. The initiative will include scientists across a range of departments, said Dennis Ojima, a professor at CSU'S Warner College of Natural Resources and research scientist at the school's Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, who will lead the effort.
Ojima, whose research looks at how climate change is affecting grasslands and Great Plains communities, credits the reputations and achievements of the school's natural-resources college and other departments for helping to land the hub designation. He also said the program should lead to more attention and funds for the university's programs that are investigating tricky and uncomfortable questions surrounding resource management and energy production.
The Climate Science Center is an impressive achievement, and it isn't the only significant one that CSU has earned this year. Just as the state legislature is hacking down its higher-education budget, climate science is infusing an impressive chunk of cash to fund university research and graduate-student development.
Center brings employment
The Climate Science Center will bring together academic researchers and federal land managers to tackle the wide array of topics. Ojima anticipates the initiative will bring five to 12 new employee positions and postdoctoral opportunities to CSU, starting next year. The consortium of schools and research labs will also have a pool of $1 million to $2 million in annual funds to do targeted research.
Colorado State has scored several other federal grants to study additional facets of climate change. Earlier this spring, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded CSU $15 million to set up the Adapting Livestock Systems to Climate Change Collaborative Research Support Program. The grant establishes CSU as one of nine similar programs meant to tap the resources of land-grant universities and collaborating partners.
With a focus on developing countries in dry regions, scientists at the school will set up research programs in sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia. Study topics include animal health and science, agricultural economics, and a range of other topics that relate to how changes in precipitation patterns and growing seasons could influence natural resources and human communities.
The National Science Foundation is funding another new CSU program, called WATER - Water, Atmosphere, Ecosystem Education and Research - to spark interdisciplinary research for graduate students from 11 university departments. Civil and environmental engineering professor Jorge Ramirez will lead the $2.75 million program, and up to 30 doctoral students will participate and study issues that tie in water resources, human communities and atmospheric science.
"The bunch of faculty in our center are trying very hard to build connections and to make sure that our graduate students get broadly trained in these multiple disciplines instead of just being specialists on one thing," said Scott Denning, a CSU atmospheric scientist who studies interactions between carbon dioxide and the land, and will help lead the WATER program.
Including these efforts, CSU now hosts 14 federally funded and managed research labs. The school also claims a half-dozen major initiatives on climate research. Other special programs and projects are exploring climate change and its impacts as well as working on innovations to create clean-energy sources and reduce carbon emissions in Colorado and the rest of the world.
Figuring out the financial contributions of climate research to CSU isn't straightforward, because some programs may tie into the field indirectly. Denning speculates that the university gets more than $50 million, and possibly as much as $100 million, in climate-science research funds.
"It's certainly a major, major focus of the work of the university, and it accounts for a substantial fraction of the budget," said Denning, whose research lab runs on grants.
The infusion of federal grants and research dollars is particularly significant when the state is drastically slashing its higher-education budget. In the two most recent fiscal years, CSU will have lost $30 million - about 23 percent - of state funding. The projected state budget for this fiscal year includes $116 million for CSU, plus federal stimulus money. But expected state revenue declines could chop another $11 million, and force more tuition hikes and job layoffs and deeper cuts to student services.
Building research reputation
Building research reputation
Climate science isn't going to erase the need for state support of higher education, but the string of programs are reinforcing CSU's reputation and should lead to more attention and money for university research.
"The conjunction of all these various regional partners around Colorado State University (including federal agencies located in Fort Collins) makes this a very attractive place to develop this regional Climate Science Center," Ojima said. "This type of leadership that Colorado State is showing will leverage additional funds from the private sector as well as other federal and international activities.
"I think as we become a go-to place for climate-science information and we actually look at management options related to climate impacts and consequences, we'll see the business community looking at information from us and hopefully bringing in some additional dollars for that kind of interaction," he added.
Beyond the recognition and benefits for the university, Denning says the parade of federal grants also ensures that CSU and its researchers are tackling land-use issues relevant to people locally and globally.
"(Climate change is) impacting people in a huge way, especially on the Front Range," Denning said, citing effects on state agriculture, ski tourism and recreation, and water planning. "We've got some real practical problems. It's a great thing that CSU scientists are able to help in very practical ways."
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