Written by Alison Hewitt
The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains provides roughly 60 percent of California’s water. It’s as critical a natural resource as any other in the state.
“It’s so important to life as we know it in California,” says Alex Hall, a member of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
But a March 2017 study led by Hall revealed that warming from climate change could significantly reduce the snowpack’s volume by the end of the century, which would dramatically affect California’s water supply.
If that sounds ominous, it should. Hall’s work is designed to hit close to home — both to give the public a clear sense of the likely effects of climate change, and to give lawmakers the hard data they need to enact regulations that better protect our natural resources.
But research is just the first step. Getting the data in front of people who are in a position to take action must follow. That’s why Hall uses some research funding for a specialist to translate the data and present recommendations to key decision makers.
Los Angeles policymakers already are responding to a 2012 study by Hall and his colleagues. The research projected that greater Los Angeles will be 4 to 5 degrees warmer by 2050, and that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current pace, Southern California can expect 60 to 90 more days per year with temperatures above 95 degrees. So local public health officials are revamping strategies to help people survive heat waves, and urban planners are exploring how eco-friendly buildings and cityscapes can reduce temperatures — for example, by using heat-reflecting materials for roofing and pavement and by planting more trees.
Hall, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, is one of more than 150 faculty experts working on UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which aims to shift the region entirely to local water and renewable energy by 2050.
Ultimately, he says, California needs better ways to collect and store water, a message Hall has brought to public talks throughout the state, including an April 2017 presentation to the staff of Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.
“It’s not enough to do the research and passively place it out there for public consumption,” Hall says. “We need to translate the science, make it accessible and actively share knowledge. We’re trying to advance climate science in a fundamental way that is also useful to the public.”