Aquatic-Riparian Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Wahlberg, MM, FJ Triepke, AK Rose, and DE Ryerson
Posted on: 4/17/2023 - Updated on: 4/17/2023

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The water-limited southwestern United States is home to critical aquatic and riparian ecosystems that sustain an extraordinary level of biodiversity and services to local communities. In arid environments where water is already scarce, this short supply is even more precious. Higher temperatures and extended droughts due to climate change reduce the volume of water available to these ecosystems, impacting their health and resilience into the future.

This Story Map contains a synthesis of the Aquatic-Riparian Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (ARCCV) (attached below), which evaluates risk and climate vulnerability of these systems. The interactive maps allow you to expand and explore the data on your own. Additional details are available in the reports linked at the end of the Story Map. Land managers will use the assessment to help prioritize and guide strategy and activities in the upcoming years.

This analysis provides an aquatic-riparian counterpart to the Forest Service Regional Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) of upland ecosystems. It also complements the regional Socioeconomic Vulnerability Assessment.The ARCCVA analyzes risk at the subwatershed-scale for all of Arizona and New Mexico along with subwatersheds in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles that intersect Forest Service lands. The assessment evaluates over two dozen intrinsic and climate-related indicators of watershed condition and riparian and aquatic habitat. Each subwatershed is assessed for current intrinsic vulnerability and for future climate-related vulnerability based upon a 2030-2059 forecast.

The ARCCVA is designed to provide information about current and potential threats to important resource values to inform land manager priorities, effects analyses, and assessments such as Shared Stewardship and Watershed Condition Classification. The ARCCVA examines vulnerability at the subwatershed level based on indicators for three components of vulnerability:

  • Exposure – The climatic or ecological forces affecting the ecosystem. Increasing exposure corresponds with increasing vulnerability and negative impacts.
  • Sensitivity – The known or predicted susceptibility of ecosystems to negative impacts from exposure. Increasing sensitivity corresponds with increasing vulnerability.
  • Adaptive Capacity – The potential of ecosystems to cope with given levels of exposure. Increasing adaptive capacity corresponds with positive impacts and lower vulnerability.


Wahlberg, MM, FJ Triepke, AK Rose, and DE Ryerson. 2023. Aquatic-riparian climate change vulnerability assessment – Executive report. USDA Forest Service resource report available online . Southwestern Region, Regional Office, Albuquerque NM. 24 pp.

Affiliated Organizations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service is a Federal agency that manages public lands in national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service is also the largest forestry research organization in the world, and provides technical and financial assistance to state and private forestry agencies. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, summed up the purpose of the Forest Service—"to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run."

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