Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS)

CLIMAS Annual Report 2018
(Period of Performance: 6/1/17 - 5/31/18)

CLIMAS Phase III Final Report
(Period of Performance: 2007- 2013)

CLIMAS Briefing Sheet (2017)

Director/Lead Principal Investigator
Daniel Ferguson

Heidi E. Brown
Bonnie G. Colby
Michael A. Crimmins
David W. DuBois
George Frisvold
Ladd Keith
Benjamin McMahan
Alison M. Meadow
Jonathan T. Overpeck
Gigi Owen
Stephanie Carroll Rainie
Jeremy Weiss
Connie Woodhouse

Executive Committee
Heidi E. Brown
Michael A. Crimmins
Daniel Ferguson
George Frisvold
Connie Woodhouse

Senior personnel
Sarah Leroy
Mitchell McClaran
Craig Rasmussen
Marcel Schaap
Margaret Wilder

Affiliated Institutions
New Mexico State University
University of Arizona (Core Office)

CLIMAS Website


The mission of the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) program is to improve the region’s ability to respond sufficiently and appropriately to climatic events and climate changes. The program promotes participatory, iterative research involving scientists, decision makers, resource users, educators, and others who need more and better information about climate and its impacts. CLIMAS investigators conduct research on the nature, causes, and consequences of climate change and variability in the southwestern United States.


The intersection of climate variability and change with social phenomena such as population growth, economic development, and populations with varying levels of climate vulnerability creates a complex environment for decision making in the semi-arid and arid southwestern United States. Resource and land managers concerned with maintaining the health of ecosystems and resources face serious climate-related challenges, including severe sustained drought, dramatic seasonal and interannual variations in precipitation, and steadily rising temperatures. Similarly, local, state, and tribal governments strive to maintain vital economic growth and quality of life within the context of drought, population growth, vector-born disease, and variable water supplies. Throughout its history, CLIMAS has worked to assess climate variability and longer-term climate change in terms of impacts on human and natural systems in the Southwest. In doing so, it has also developed a substantial network of stakeholders, research collaborators, and partners among members of the public, private, nonprofit, and academic communities.

The program is currently organized into five categories: 1) Outreach; 2) Use-Inspired Science and Decision Support; 3) Graduate and Undergraduate Training; 4) Advancing Science Knowledge; and 5) Evaluation.


CLIMAS uses several types of outreach to transmit and translate pertinent climate information to a large, diverse audience. Some of these outreach avenues include:

  • The Southwest Climate Outlook (SWCO) is a summary of climate and weather information from disparate sources for more than 1,600 monthly readers. Since SWCO's inception in 2002, the publication has evolved into a tool for two-way communication with stakeholders and a platform for responding to needs throughout the region.
  • The Southwestern Oscillations Blog contains news, information and commentary about CLIMAS research and regional climate related issues.
  • CLIMAS Podcasts provide discussions about a variety of regional climate topics.
  • The Southwest Climate Podcast features extended conversations about recent climate events.
  • 1075' – Shortage on the Colorado River is a series of five episodes that explored what the first ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River would mean to those living in the Southwest.
  • Speaking of Climate... is a new podcast series that engages people who work on climate science, communication, outreach, and education.

Social Media – CLIMAS is on:

Use-Inspired Science and Decision Support

CLIMAS research projects are designed to provide useful information for regional stakeholders that will help people make climate-related decisions in the Southwest. CLIMAS investigators cover a wide range of topics, disciplines, and methods to conduct use-inspired research and provide decision support. Selected current projects include:

Air Quality and Climate
Dust storms in the Southwest US and Northern Mexico continue to be a serious health and safety issue. Valley fever and asthma are two regional health impacts tied to dust and drought. Dust storms can also increase transportation hazards due to reduced visibility. Researchers are using ground based air quality monitoring and satellite remote sensing of dust plumes to determine the impacted areas as well as where the dust originated. This project aims to improve short-term dust forecasts, coupled with seasonal forecast model outputs, to provide more time to prepare for dust events.

Planning for Drought in the Warming and Drying Southwest: Developing a Suite of Drought Indicators to Support Tribal Decision Making in the Four Corners
Researchers, in collaboration with the Hopi Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources, are developing a set of drought indicators as well as methods for collecting, analyzing, and using the data needed for each indicator. In addition to indicators that rely on temperature and precipitation data, this project aims to develop a complementary suite of indicators that uses drought impacts information the HDNR has begun to collect. As a part of this project, an experimental Quarterly Hopi Drought Summary report was created, which synthesizes various data sources that reflect ongoing drought status on Hopi lands.

Adaptation to Climate Variability and Change: Markets, Policy, Technology, and Information
This project examines mechanisms for adapting to climate variability and change that include (1) the use of water markets by agriculture and urban water utilities, (2) the use of weather and climate information by agricultural producers, (3) the adoption of improved irrigation technologies, and (4) agricultural and other policy responses. Researchers are examining the sources from which agriculturalists get their information, as well as investigating how the source of information affects how agricultural managers apply it to their water management decisions.

Climate and Weather Services for Disaster Management: A FEMA, NWS, and CLIMAS Collaboration
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plays a critical role in helping land, water, and coastal managers prepare for and respond to diverse weather- and climate-driven extreme events. Challenges to accessing, interpreting, and disseminating diverse climate and weather information, however, limit FEMA’s use of this information, which can impede pre-positioning resources in high-risk areas, delay advanced warnings and spur misunderstanding. This project aims to: (1) assess FEMA’s information needs and gaps; (2) co-produce a decision support tool with FEMA and the National Weather Service; and (3) measure impacts, successes, and limitations of the decision-support tool, engagement process, and partnership.

Adaptation Strategies for Water and Energy Sectors in the Southwest
This project examines potential climate change and variability adaptation strategies in water, environmental, and energy sectors in the Southwest. Persistent drought and climate change affect water and energy costs—and hence choices made by farms, cities, and industrial water and energy users—as well as energy and water providers’ operations. Water and power costs are likely to increase, leading to increased financial stress for households and businesses and resource management challenges in the water and energy sectors. This research investigates new methods for predicting and adapting to climate impacts in the water and electricity urban supply sectors and for providing water for critical habitat needs.

Water Needs and Impacts of Climate Change and Water Diversion on Ecosystems of the Upper Gila River in New Mexico
The goal of this project is to define the ecosystem water needs of the upper Gila River in New Mexico and to evaluate the probable ecological impacts of a diversion proposed under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, New Mexico Unit, considering existing conditions and changing climate. The CLIMAS portion of this project is developing climate and hydrological change projections needed by ecologists, biologists, and hydrologists to evaluate potential impacts of change on hydrological and ecological processes.

Graduate and Undergraduate Training

CLIMAS has recognized the need to support and train students who are interested in use-inspired science. Many students no longer seek only tenure-track positions; they are often interested in jobs outside of academia. CLIMAS training programs help students learn the skills to bring scientific knowledge to real world problems.

  • Climate & Society Graduate Fellows Program: This fellowship supports University of Arizona graduate students whose work connects climate research and decision making. Fellows receive $5,000 and guidance from members of the CLIMAS research team for one year. The program’s main objective is to train a group of students to cross the traditional boundaries of academic research into use-inspired science and applied research. Students who want to conduct collaborative research may use their funding for use-inspired projects. Students who have conducted climate research and want to communicate their findings to audiences outside of academia may use their funding for outreach. 
  • Making the Connection between Science and Decision Making - A Graduate Seminar:
    This seminar, aimed at graduate students from any relevant discipline, explores concepts at the intersection between environmental science and decision making, including scientific information supply and demand, boundary organizations, co-production of knowledge, and knowledge networks, as well as recognition of the political context for decision making. It also includes practical aspects of two-way communication to explore the ways in which exchanges take place between scientists and decision makers, who can include resource management professionals, planners, policymakers, NGOs, and the general public.

Advancing Science Knowledge

CLIMAS contributes to advancing science knowledge by publishing research in academic journals, trade journals, technical reports, and white papers. Visit the CLIMAS program’s publication database to view recent and past literature.


The CLIMAS program’s primary goal of providing relevant climate-related research to support decision making in our region. A fundamental, though frequently overlooked, element of this type of socially-engaged research is evaluation of the program and its constituent projects to understand whether we effectively connect climate science with decision makers; learn about what integrative activities work and why; demonstrate successes to funding agencies, stakeholders, and the public; and improve the overall program. This program evaluation effort involves articulating an overarching program theory of CLIMAS (i.e., why do we do the work we do), and developing and monitoring metrics to demonstrate how the program and its projects function.



Dr. Chelsea Combest-Friedman
Social Scientist, Program Director (Acting)
P: (301) 734-1240

Caitlin Simpson
Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1251

Dr. Ariela Zycherman
Social Scientist, Program Manager
P: (301) 734-1244

Sean Bath*
Program Specialist (UCAR)
P: (301) 734-1294


Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. 


1315 East-West Highway Suite 100
Silver Spring, MD 20910