The Theoretical Framework of
the Society, Water and Climate Research Cluster
Water is the key limiting resource for human development and for ecological and agricultural productivity in the Western US, and in many parts of the world. Climate change, water availability, and air quality are closely linked. Climate change will bring increased temperatures combined with likely increases in the severity, frequency, and duration of weather extremes, such as droughts and floods. Changes in water availability due to climate change will be further complicated by use of water for agriculture, changes in land use, and population growth. Elevated temperatures can also increase the production and concentration of photochemical oxidants, which has serious implications for human health. Furthermore, increased air pollution can affect the longevity of snowpack which affects water storage and resources. Climate change will have important ecological impacts, including changes in species distribution and ecosystem function, insect disturbance, and wildfire activity. Emissions from wildfires adversely impact air quality in downwind locations. In many regions of the world, issues centered on climate change and water availability will profoundly shape society in the next century. Addressing these issues requires a focused, transdisciplinary effort from scientists with expertise in society, water and climate.
The University of Utah currently has faculty members conducting research in these areas; however, the University administration identified this nexus of research areas as an opportunity for the development of a research cluster. Further enhancing strengths in this area at the University of Utah will allow us to contribute to solving important issues facing the Western US and many other regions around the world. Filling this gap also means that we will broaden our ability to train undergraduates and graduates to lead society towards sustainable water solutions in a changing world.