Williams, a bioclimatologist and associate research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, explores the influence of climate change on droughts and wildfires.
The processes that govern drought’s effects are complex and difficult to simulate with computer models that could provide a forecast. With support from the Center for Climate and Life, Williams will use world-class observational datasets to diagnose the main drivers of changes in soil moisture, snowpack, streamflow, and wildfire, and the influence that human-induced climate change has had on each. He also plans to use tree-ring records to compare recent western U.S. droughts to the megadroughts from the 800s to 1500s that are suspected of uprooting civilizations.
“Understanding the climate-change effect on these processes is critical for resource management and planning of future policy,” Williams said. “For example, western U.S. forest-fire area has tripled since the early 1980s. Government policies toward fire-fighting and fuels treatments – forest thinning, for example – would be affected if we understood the effect of climate change on fire in the past and future.”