Aspen launches climate study |

Aspen launches climate study

Janet Urquhart

Aspen has launched an ambitious study of climate change and its potential future impacts on the ski resort’s snowpack, ecology and economy.

A team of primarily Boulder-based experts has already begun work on the three-pronged study, to be finished next spring. A roomful of community representatives ” most with either an obvious stake in the impacts of global warming or an environmental bent ” gathered today in Aspen for a briefing on the study and a chance to add their two cents’ worth as the research gets under way.

The “stakeholders” included representatives of the Aspen Skiing Co., as well as a backcountry outfitter, a whitewater rafting guide and a local rancher, for example.

The study will attempt predictions at Aspen’s climactic, ecological and socioeconomic fortunes in the near term ” the year 2030 ” and beyond under various scenarios.

The Aspen Global Change Institute has assembled the team on the city’s behalf as part of Aspen’s Canary Initiative ” a program to reduce Aspen’s contribution to global warming and to lead by example.

Much of the city’s roughly $120,000 budget for the study will be spent on computer modeling ” plugging complex data into a programs that can identify trends and make predictions about the future.

What does it mean, for example, that Aspen’s average number of frost-free days per year has increased by three weeks over the course of the last century?

In the case of analyzing the local snowpack, the study will attempt to estimate the length of future ski seasons, the accumulation and melting of the snowpack, its average depth and the quality of the snow, said Brian Lazar of Stratus Consulting, Inc. in Boulder.

Anecdotally, the spring runoff seems to be getting shorter and more intense, he noted.

“It’s not that the snow depth is changing all that much ” it’s the timing,” he said. “It’s coming later and melting sooner.”

Jonathan Lowsky, former Pitkin County wildlife biologist and now a local private-sector consultant, will attempt to apply the study’s predictions in climate change to what happens to the local plant and animal communities.

A pair of consultants with the Center of the American West and Department of Geography at the University of Colorado-Boulder are part of the group assessing how climactic changes that may be forecast by the study might affect skier days and, in extrapolation, skier spending. They will also analyze the potential economic impacts in the other seasons of the year, and on the second-home market in Aspen.

For more on Friday’s discussion, see Saturday’s Aspen Times.