Last year's Monument Fire, seen from an evacuation area near Sierra Vista, burned more than 30,000 acres and came uncomfortably close to Fort Huachuca before it was contained.

Scientists have long worried about the consequences of climate change. Now the Pentagon is fretting, too, and turning for help to the University of Arizona.

The UA's Institute of the Environment will get close to $2 million in research grants over the next few years to help figure out how drought, dust storms, forest fires, lightning and rising temperatures could affect defense bases across the American Southwest.

Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista will be part of pilot projects to predict how global warming will affect military training, flying and living conditions for the troops.

"This is all relatively new," UA research scientist Raphael Sagarin said of the Pentagon push to start looking closely at the issue.

Climate change "is going to impact everything the military does" in this part of the country, Sagarin said.

"I would say it's already affecting them," he added, noting how drought-fueled forest fires were "right on the doorstep of Fort Huachuca last year."

A Defense Department website says the Southwest "houses some of the most spatially expansive and important military installations in the country."

"In addition to concerns regarding future water resource availability, an increase in extreme weather events will directly affect physical infrastructure and operational capability."

Sagarin has put together a team that will travel to Fort Huachuca, the Barry M. Goldwater Range west of Tucson, and to Coronado Naval Base in San Diego, where concern is not over drought, but rather over rising sea levels due to polar icecap melt.

In a related study, UA researcher Christopher Castro will work with D-M to come up with better ways to predict how storms will affect flight operations.

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The Pentagon expects more from the UA than just reams of research paper, Sagarin said. Officials want practical ways to minimize negative effects.

"This isn't just about science," he said. "It's about giving them tools that work."

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

On StarNet: Read more environment-related articles at azstarnet.com/news/science/environment