NW Climate Science Digest

Aquatic Resources, Stream Flow, Hydrology in the Western U.S.

Fragmented patterns of flood change across the United States

Archfield, S. A., R. M. Hirsch, A. Viglione, and G. Blöschl (2016), Fragmented patterns of flood change across the United States, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/2016GL070590.

A recent study from the United States Geologic Survey used 70 years of mean daily streamflow data to examine changes in flood frequency, magnitude, duration, and volume across various physiographic and climatic regions of the United States. The researchers categorized flood events into four groups: minimal change, increasing frequency, decreasing frequency, and increasing in all aforementioned flood properties. The study found that flood behavior exhibited weak geographic cohesion, revealing a complex and fragmented pattern of flood change across the U.S.   

Perspectives on the causes of exceptionally low 2015 snowpack in the western United States

Mote, P. W., D. E. Rupp, S. Li, D. J. Sharp, F. Otto, P. F. Uhe, M. Xiao, D. P. Lettenmaier, H. Cullen, and M. R. Allen (2016), Perspectives on the causes of exceptionally low 2015 snowpack in the western United States,Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/2016GL069965.

NWCSC Academic Director Phil Mote and colleagues recently published a report examining the “snow drought” of 2014-2015 in Washington and Oregon. The authors used a crowd-sourced superensemble of regional climate model simulations to compare human-induced causes to changes in sea surface temperature (SST) as contributions to the snow drought. Additionally, the study compared causes of the snow drought to the anomalous drought in California from 2011-2015. Findings from this study showed that SST anomalies contributed twice as much as anthropogenic effects, however both exhibited strong influences on the snow drought. Comparing this to the California drought, the authors conclude that both extreme events were exacerbated by human-induced rises in temperature.

Characterization of post-fire streamflow response across western US watersheds

Saxe, S., Hogue, T. S., and Hay, L. 2016. Characterization of post-fire streamflow response across western US watersheds, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2016-533, in review.

Researcher Samuel Saxe from the Colorado School of Mines collaborated with researchers from the United States Geologic Survey to examine the impact of wildfires on watershed flow regimes. The authors synthesized data on fire events, watershed characteristics, and streamflow in order to identify watersheds with at least ten years of pre- and post-fire daily streamflow records. These 82 watersheds were then categorized into nine regions and used to produce regression models analyzing total area burned. Findings from this study showed a significant increase in flow during the first two years following a wildfire, and then a decrease over time. Watersheds in eastern California, western Nevada and Oregon demonstrated a negative relative post-fire flow, while watersheds in other regions of the U.S. showed a positive mean relative flow. The authors concluded that the correlation between area burned and flow was limited, indicating that change in flow could be dominated by other watershed factors.

Arid Ecosystems

Great Basin 2015-2016 Factsheet Series compilation now available online

Great Basin Fire Science Exchange has just released the 2015-2016 Great Basin Factsheet Series compilation. The factsheets were developed by with support from the Great Basin LCC, the Joint Fire Science Program, the Great Basin Research and Management Partnership, and the Sagebrush Treatment Evaluation Project. The compilation includes 14 factsheets on topics ranging from invasive annual grasses to grazing management to seeding and transplanting techniques.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

'Robomussels' used to monitor climate change

Helmuth, B. et al. 2016. Long-term, high frequency in situ measurements of intertidal mussel bed temperatures using biomimetic sensors. Scientific Data, 3: 160087 DOI:10.1038/sdata.2016.87

For the past two decades, Northeastern University scientist Brian Helmuth and his colleagues have been collecting field observations of the internal temperature of mussel beds using small, mussel-like biomimetic sensors. Their database was used to link mussel bed temperature to the physiological impact of global climate change on mussels. Results have been recently published in the journal Scientific Data, and shown that mussels act as a barometer of climate change, in the sense that they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their own body temperature. Additionally, the database has allowed scientists to detect areas of unusual warming, high erosion, or acidification, and enabled managers, policymakers and researchers to develop strategies that could mitigate these stressors.

Climate change may benefit native oysters, but there's a catch

Brian S. Cheng et al. Trophic sensitivity of invasive predator and native prey interactions: integrating environmental context and climate change. Functional Ecology, October 2016 DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.12759

A recent study from the University of California, Davis, examined the projected impacts of climate change on the oyster populations along the California coast. Published in Functional Ecology, researcher Brian Cheng and colleagues measured the thermal and saline parameters of the Olympia oyster (native species to the West coast of North America) and the oyster drill (invasive snail species that eats oysters). While extreme conditions, such as warmer temperatures and lower salinity, actually benefit oysters because they tend to grow faster, the study shows that these climate change-induced environmental conditions will benefit their predators (the oyster drill) first, subsequently reducing the oyster population. 

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Longest record of continuous carbon flux data is now publicly available

An international database, called FLUXNET, has been collecting and managing measurements of how carbon dioxide, water vapor, and heat circulate through soil, plants and the atmosphere from 450 sites worldwide. The database contains sites that have been measuring flux for nearly 25 years, making them some of the longest records of continuous carbon flux measurements to date. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have undergone quality checks of the database and have developed user friendly software to accompany the tool. The database, now available to the public, allows scientists to ask unprecedented questions about long-term effects, such as how changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide over time affects photosynthesis or water within an ecosystem.

EPA’s Adaptation Resource Center

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X). ARC-X is an interactive resource to help local governments effectively deliver climate information services to their communities. Decision makers can create an integrated package of information tailored specifically to their needs. Users can use the online center to explore the risks posed by climate change to their issues of concern; relevant adaptation strategies; case studies illustrating how other communities have successfully adapted to those risks; tools to replicate their successes; and EPA funding opportunities.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Farmed fish living in high CO2 conditions shed light on likely long-term impacts of CO2 on marine life

Robert P. Ellis, Mauricio A. Urbina, Rod W. Wilson. Lessons from two high CO2 worlds - future oceans and intensive aquaculture. Global Change Biology, 2016; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13515

Authors of a recent paper in Global Change Biology show that farmed fish often live in CO2 conditions 10 times higher than their wild cousins, and argue that these systems could serve as "a giant long-term laboratory experiment" to study the long-term impact of CO2 on marine life. At the same time, these studies may help farmers optimize their practices to improve an important means of food production for our growing global population.

Storm wave study could help improve design of coastal defenses

Y. Watanabe, D. M. Ingram. Size distributions of sprays produced by violent wave impacts on vertical sea walls. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Science, 2016; 472 (2194): 20160423 DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2016.0423

An international team of scientists used a scaled-down version of a seawall to record patterns of spray after impact from waves. They used their observations to make a statistical model to calculate patterns of spray that they hope will help inform the design of future defense strategies like seawalls and other barricades.

New 13-year study tracks effects of changing ocean temperature on phytoplankton

K. R. Hunter-Cevera, M. G. Neubert, R. J. Olson, A. R. Solow, A. Shalapyonok, H. M. Sosik. Physiological and ecological drivers of early spring blooms of a coastal phytoplankter. Science, 2016; 354 (6310): 326 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8536

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) used seawater samples collected continuously for 13 years by an automated sensor known as “Flow Cytobot” to study how changes in ocean temperature affect a key species of phytoplankton. They found that rising ocean temperatures caused annual blooms of Synechococcus to occur up to four weeks earlier than usual because their cells divided faster in warmer conditions. Shifts like this could impact marine ecosystems worldwide by affecting the livelihoods of larger species like fish, whales, and birds. The flow cytobot used in this study was located at Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO), a small observatory stationed just off the Massachusetts island's coast. Much larger ocean observatories are currently being built off the US Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and in other locations worldwide. These new networks may enable similar studies in the future, offering a detailed look at ocean ecosystems around the globe.


Climate change has doubled Western U.S. forest fires

John T. Abatzoglou, A. Park Williams. 2016. Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201607171 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1607171113


University of Idaho climate scientist John Abatzoglou and bioclimatologist Park Williams from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory recently published a report examining the impact of climate change on the extent of land threatened by forest fires in the western United States. The authors used climate projection models to evaluate the contributions of human-induced climate change on observed increases in fuel aridity metrics and forest fire area, and found that area affected by forest fires has doubled over the last 30 years. The study concluded that further anthropogenic warming and increases in vapor pressure deficit will continue to exacerbate western U.S. fire activity.


Biodiversity loss in forests will be pricey

J. Liang et al. 2016. Positive biodiversity-productivity relationship predominant in global forests. Science; 354 (6309): aaf8957 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8957

An international team of scientists collaborated to produce a global-scale report of the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem productivity. The report compiled 777,126 sample plots across 44 countries and 13 ecoregions, studying more than 30 million trees and 8,737 species. In general, the report found that a 10% decrease in tree species richness would lead to a 2-3% decline in ecosystem productivity world-wide. The authors highlight the need for worldwide reassessment of forest management strategies and conservation priorities. 

Land Use

New satellite image database maps the dynamics of human presence on Earth

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development has launched a new global database to track human presence on Earth. This new Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) makes it possible to analyze in a consistent and detailed manner the development of built-up areas, population and settlements of the whole planet over the past 40 years. Its datasets are based on more than 12.4k billions of individual image data records collected by different satellite sensors. It combines this satellite imagery with census data on population. The GHSL can be used to check where and how people live, to measure the size of built-up areas and map their growth of over time, to calculate the density of cities and to analyze how green or how exposed to disasters urban centers are. It also provides a practical tool for the monitoring of the implementation of international frameworks.

Soil modeling to help curb climate change

Boris Tupek, Carina A. Ortiz, Shoji Hashimoto, Johan Stendahl, Jonas Dahlgren, Erik Karltun, Aleksi Lehtonen. 2016. Underestimation of boreal soil carbon stocks by mathematical soil carbon models linked to soil nutrient status. Biogeosciences; 13 (15): 4439 DOI: 10.5194/bg-13-4439-2016

An international team of scientists recently published a study examining the ability of soil carbon models to capture the actual volume of carbon efflux by comparing simulated outcomes to observed soil carbon data. The authors found that models accurately captured soil carbon volume only under certain conditions; forests with barren and mesotrophic soil. Models of more fertile soils, containing high amounts of clay and nutrients, underestimated the amount of soil carbon efflux. The authors concluded that carbon stock in these more fertile soils have additional biological factors driving carbon efflux, and that models would be improved by including these longer-term effects on carbon stock. 

Special Reports / Announcements

New Issue of Northwest Climate Magazine

The latest issue of Northwest Climate Magazine has been released. It features stories about how the region is preparing for future drought; working with beaver to restore river watersheds; protecting cold water climate refugia; studying patterns of wildfire destruction to help build forest resilience; collaborating on conservation efforts in the Great Basin; and more. NW Climate Magazine is co-produced by the Department of the Interior’s Northwest Climate Science Center, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative and NOAA’s Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium. 

Exploring Legal Adaptive Capacity and Federal Land Adaptation to Climate Change

A publication in the University of Colorado Law Review explores the concept of ‘legal adaptive capacity’ and how the extent of a regulatory agency’s engagement in climate change adaptation is influenced by the flexibility of the goals under its authorizing legal framework. The authors compare the legal discretion of the BLM, FWS, NPS, and USFS. Learn more 

Taking Action

New, expanded edition of Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers

The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and US Forest Service Northern Research Station recently released an updated and expanded edition of Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers. Since its initial release in 2012, the Adaptation Workbook contained in the Forest Adaptation Resources has been used by hundreds of public, private, and tribal land managers to incorporate climate change considerations into natural resource management and conservation activities. The new edition contains additional resources to support the development of vulnerability assessments as well as adaptation in urban forests. The new version is available for download here:  www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/52760

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

The Nooksack Indian Tribe works to understand a changing watershed

The Nooksack Indian Tribe of Northwestern Washington is leading a project to examine the effects of climate change on glaciers in the Nooksack River watershed and evaluate the potential impacts on salmonids. Since 2012, the Tribe has monitored the Sholes, Heliotrope, and Hadley glaciers on Mt. Baker, measuring variables like snow depth, melt rate, streamflow, sediment loads, and stream temperature as well as air temperature, precipitation, humidity, and solar radiation. These measurements help establish a baseline of current conditions against which to measure climate change impacts. Early results confirm the Tribe’s need for adaptation action. With support from the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the Nooksack Tribe is working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington Department of Ecology, Western Washington University, Nichols College, the University of Washington, the Lummi Nation, the Stillaguamish Tribe and other partners to develop targeted restoration actions that will address climate change. These include reconnecting fragmented floodplains, restoring historic stream flow regimes, managing erosion and sediment delivery, improving riparian functions, and rehabilitating degraded streams. These efforts are featured in the latest issue of Northwest Climate Magazine.