Western Mountain Initiative: Central Rocky Mountains

Science Center Objects

Mountain ecosystems of the western U.S. provide irreplaceable goods and services such as water, wood, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities, but their responses to global 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 global change.

A student filters water for the Western Mountain Initiative in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.
A student filters water for the Western Mountain Initiative in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

The effects of global 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, limnology, water quality, and forest health, 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 program goals are:

Research Objectives

  1. To observe and differentiate natural processes from unnatural, human-caused drivers of change.
  2. To understand and quantify the effects of atmospheric deposition and climate change on high-elevation ecosystems.
Measuring a hillslope transect for snow depth and soil moisture Loch Vale,  May 2010, Stephanie Kampf and Katie Williams.
Stephanie Kampf and Katie Williams measuring a hillslope transect for snow depth and soil moisture Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. May 2010. Photo by Jill Baron, USGS. Public domain.

Program Objectives

  1. To share knowledge gained from research activities with the public, scientific community, and natural-resource managers.
  2. To offer a program of graduate education and research that develops future scientists and knowledgeable resource managers.
  3. To maintain the Loch Vale long-term ecological research project as a successful example of ecosystem-study design, interdisciplinary collaboration, long-term monitoring, and sustainable natural-resource management.

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.

Return to The Western Mountain Initiative (WMI) or Ecosystem Dynamics