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United States Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service

Southwest Regional Climate Hub

(May 4, 2015)  Established in February 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southwest Regional Climate Hub was tasked with supplying science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help them to adjust to climate change and weather variability.  The Southwest Regional Climate Hub is located at the Rangeland Management Research Unit/Jornada Experimental Range, the Agricultural Research Service location at New Mexico State University.  Al Rango, director of the Southwest Regional Climate Hub, was honored at a NMSU Scholarly Excellence Rally last month. 

The Southwest Regional Climate Hub, one of seven regional hubs in the country, covers six states: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California and Hawaii along with islands west of Hawaii.  Al Rango“The idea is to get the message out to stakeholders – farmers, ranchers and foresters — what they can do to combat the effects of climate change,” Rango said. “They are being coordinated by the Cooperative Extension Service so that they get similar messages that will be tailored for the situation in that particular state.  We’re also coordinating our work with the work of the Department of Interior’s Climate Centers as well as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Centers,” he said.  Two of the main goals for the Southwest Regional Climate Hub are to provide outreach and education.

In the Southwest, a wide variety of agriculture crops are produced including cotton, lettuce, tree fruit, cantaloupes, grapes, onions and pecans. In 2012, the Southwest’s total farm income surpassed more than $55 billion.  Five of the six states in the region have a major desert, and more than any other region in the country, the Southwest depends on irrigation.  The winter snowfall amounts in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Rocky Mountains are vital to the Southwest’s irrigation needs.  The region has high-climate diversity that contains the areas with the lowest and highest average annual rainfall in the nation from 6.0 centimeters in Death Valley, California to 1,168 centimeters at Mt. Waialeale, Hawaii.  Additionally, livestock is responsible for about one-third of the agriculture profits in the Southwest. Ranchers adjust livestock quantities their lands can maintain based on the seasonal and annual rainfall amounts.

Through its relationship with the Jornada Experimental Range, the Southwest Regional Climate Hub has access to 100 years of data on the region’s climate.  “We started making climate measurements three years after it was setup in 1915 and the initial result, which continues today, is finding out what the effects of grazing are on the desert environment that we are in,” Rango said.  “Jornada, along with the rest of this area, is in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is the largest desert in North America.”  Rango added that the Southwest Regional Climate Hub also uses technology such as unmanned aircraft systems to measure and study vegetation change. The scientific climate information the Southwest Regional Climate Hub is developing is being used for climate-smart decision-making.

Currently, some of the climate change and weather variability issues that Southwest agriculture producers have to manage include periods of lengthy and extreme drought spanning several years; massive, devastating and disastrous wildfires; extensive areas of forest tree mortality due to insect outbreaks; a serious decline in reservoir water supplies to previously unseen levels; and rising temperatures that led to an increase number of heat waves and a decrease in the number of cold weather outbreaks.  Along with outreach to the agricultural stakeholders in the Southwest Region, the Climate Hub is focused on providing education to future generations.  Weather and climate-impact modules have been created for students and their teachers. The modules are currently being taught to seventh- through twelfth-graders in the Las Cruces area, and are available to all regions in the country. 

For more information on the Southwest Regional Climate Hub, visit http://swclimatehub.info.  To view the climate hub news letter, visit http://jornada.nmsu.edu/sw-climate-hub/newsletter; to subscribe, visit http://nmsu.us8.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=cc84aebdbf717b563d9af2ab0&id=ec7f833a04

--Article by Tiffany Acosta, NMSU photo by Darren Phillips.  See more at newscenter.nmsu.edu.

The Southwest Climate Hub is located at the Jornada Experimental Range Headquarters on the NMSU campus.  The Jornada is a research location of the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.  

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