NW Climate Science Digest

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

Impacts of climate change on groundwater resources in Washington state

Pitz, Charles. 2016. Predicted Impacts of Climate Change on Groundwater Resources of Washington State. Washington State Department of Ecology. Publication No. 16-03-006

The Washington State Department of Ecology recently released a synthesis report on the climate-induced impacts of groundwater resources in the state. Author and hydrogeologist Charles Pitz evaluated and recommended preferred methods for assessing climate change impacts on groundwater storage. The author then described the current understanding of climate change impacts on five different groundwater characteristics: groundwater recharge/storage, surface water interactions/baseflow discharge, quality, temperature, and the impacts of sea-level rise. The report concludes with recommendations for Washington State water resource managers on improving protections against groundwater storage loss through increased and better statewide monitoring and assessing.

Implications of glacio-hydrological change for water resources in the Hood River Basin, OR

Frans, C., Istanbulluoglu, E., Lettenmaier, D. P., Clarke, G., Bohn, T. J., & Stumbaugh, M. 2016. Implications of decadal to century scale glacio‐hydrological change for water resources of the Hood River Basin, OR USA. Hydrological Processes.

In partially glacierized watersheds, mountain glaciers are an important source of water. Precipitation patterns are often highly season, with snow and ice masses redistributing seasonal precipitation when there are few other sources of streamflow. Consequently, glaciers provide a natural buffering of low flows. However, systems that rely on this buffering are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This new study, led by Chris Frans, formerly of the University of Washington and now at the US Army Corps of Engineers, looks at the evolution of glacier melt contribution in watershed hydrology over a 184-year period, from 1916-2099, incorporating two future climate scenarios (RCP 4.5 and 8.5) for the Hood River Basin in Northwest Oregon. The authors use a coupled hydrological and glacier dynamics model to perform continuous simulations of glaciological processes (including mass accumulation and ablation, lateral flow, and heat conduction). These processes are also key for other hydrological processes, such as snow dynamics and evapotranspiration. They find that the contribution of glacier melt to basin water supply was 79% in some parts of the basin historically. However, projected changes in climate will lead to a 14-63% or 18-78% reduction (RCP 4.5 and 8.5, respectively) in dry season discharge. The largest losses will occur at upland locations that were historically dominated by glacier melt and seasonal snow melt. Some losses will be modulated by supraglacial debris on the Hood River glaciers, which slows glacier recession. Additionally, the authors find large decadal variability in glacier melt, which underscores the need to use long time series in studying glacier recession.

American Rivers has added the Green-Duwamish River to it’s most endangered list

American Rivers, an organization involved in protecting, restoring, and conserving water systems through the U.S. has added Washington’s Green-Duwamish River to its 2016 list of the country’s ten most endangered rivers. To make the list, the river must play a significant role for the surrounding human and natural community, be impacted by climate-induced factors, and have a proposed action plan in the coming year that could greatly improve the health of the river. For the Green-Duwamish River, this action plan concerns the Army Corps of Engineer’s construction of a salmon passage that would mitigate river obstruction caused by dams. Called the Howard Hanson juvenile fish passage system, the Army Corps and NOAA are proposing a new project that would begin in 2021. In addition, a management and funding plan for the river has been proposed that would integrate local, state, and federal efforts to clean up the river. The actions taken in the next year will have major consequences for the future health of the river.

Arid Ecosystems

Climate, CO2, and the history of North American grasses since the last glacial maximum

J. M. Cotton, T.E. Cerling, K.A. Hoppe, T.M. Mosier, C.J. Still. 2016. Climate, CO2, and the history of North American grasses since the Last Glacial Maximum. Science Advances, Vol. 2, no. 3, e1501346. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501346

A new study published in Science Advances evaluated the climatic factors that influenced the compositional change in North American Grasses from the Last Glacial Maximum to present. Specifically, the authors examined the massive expansion of C4 grasses during the late Neogene era. The study first determined the “isotopic landscape” of C3/C4 grasses during the Last Glacial Maximum, mid-Holocene, and present using stable isotope composition found in mammoth and bison tissue. The study then used three statistical tests (classification and regression trees) to determine the climatic variables most influential for C4 grass expansion, which they found to be precipitation and temperature during growing season. The authors then compared their “isotopic landscapes” to climate data from the Last Glacial Maximum to the present and discovered that C4 grass expansion continued through the Great Plains during a time of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The authors were able to conclude that precipitation, rather than temperature, during growing season was a critical factor in C4 grass expansion.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Some whales are benefiting from climate change

According to a recent article from the National Geographic, whales are benefitting from climate-induced declines in sea ice. Humpback whales have been found feeding in waters off of the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the Arctic Ocean for months longer than their typical migration pattern. Rather than migrating toward tropical waters in the wintertime, these whales have lingered in the polar seas due to earlier plankton bloom onsets that lead to productive waters. Scientists from OSU have also observed humpbacks singing in Antarctic waters, indicating that they have begun breeding before migrating. The article also discussed the growing number of blue whales in the Southern Ocean and described the natural iron fertilization that is occurring because of this population increase. All of these cases suggest positive short-term impacts of climate change on whale populations, however the article also emphasized the potential long-term problems for whales. Consequences include possible feeding-time overlap between migrating whales (humpback and fin whales) and non-migrating whales (bowheads) causing atypical species competition, increased anthropogenic effects on these oceans due to ice-free ship passage (ship traffic, commercial fishing, oil spills, etc.), and the decline of organisms that whales feed on due to ocean acidification (i.e. krill).

Projected impacts of climate change on stream salmonids with implications for resilience-based management

Carlson, A. K., Taylor, W. W., Schlee, K. M., Zorn, T. G., & Infante, D. M. 2015. Projected impacts of climate change on stream salmonids with implications for resilience‐based management. Ecology of Freshwater Fish.

A recent study out of Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife designed a stream model that predicts thermal habitat suitability for freshwater species. The study acted as supplemental research for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to develop a comprehensive management plan for the state’s stream salmonids. The study produced ranges of temperature sensitivities for stream brook charr, brown trout, and rainbow trout.  The authors concluded by promoting their methodology of thermal habitat suitability projection as an effective resilience-based approach for supporting the sustainability of coldwater habitats and salmonid populations.

Incorporating climate change into spatial conservation prioritization

K.R. Jones, J.E.M. Watson, H.P. Possingham, C.J. Klein. 2016. Incorporating climate change into spatial conservation prioritisation: A review. Biological Conservation, Volume 194, 121–130. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.12.008

In this recently published article from Biological Conservation, scientists provide a review of the methods used to implement climate change-incorporated spatially-explicit priority adaptation actions (also called “spatial prioritization”). The authors evaluated a variety of methods by assessing the considered objectives, target impacts and actions, as well as the parameters and overall methodology. They then reviewed the benefits and weaknesses of each approach, and provided recommendations for improvement. Three conclusions included in their findings were (1) the variety of methods either forecasted species distributions or used robust planning principles, (2) human adaptation responses were widely ignored in spatial prioritisation, and (3) discrete climate impacts, like extreme events, must also be addressed.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Current challenges of water quality criteria for an acidifying ocean

Stephen B. Weisberg, Nina Bednaršek, Richard A. Feely, Francis Chan, Alexandria B. Boehm, Martha Sutula, Jennifer L. Ruesink, Burke Hales, John L. Largier, Jan A. Newton. 2016. Water quality criteria for an acidifying ocean: Challenges and opportunities for improvement. Ocean & Coastal Management. vol. 126 p. 31-41. doi:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.03.010

The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel has released a new publication assessing the current dissidence between the scientific criteria for researching the effects of ocean acidification and the criteria laid out in the Clean Water Act 303(d) for classifying bodies of water as impaired. The authors discuss the scientific challenges in classifying impairment for both pH and biological criteria. First, pH criteria is challenging because the current acceptable range includes acidity levels that have been known to cause significant ecological damage. Many states also discuss pH change as relative to a natural standard which has been difficult to define because of the lack of coastal monitoring data. In addition to pH science, the authors discussed the challenges facing biological research due to the difficulty in deciphering the specific phenomena causing biological declines. Without sufficient coastal monitoring of both pH levels and biological criteria, the authors stress the challenges scientists face in pinpointing ocean acidification effects. The authors concluded with proposals for improving the criteria in the Clean Water Act 303(d).

Ocean acidification is being exacerbated by local factors

Chan, F., Boehm, A.B., Barth, J.A., Chornesky, E.A., Dickson, A.G., Feely, R.A., Hales, B., Hill, T.M., Hofmann, G., Ianson, D., Klinger, T., Largier, J., Newton, J., Pedersen, T.F., Somero, G.N., Sutula, M., Wakefield, W.W., Waldbusser, G.G., Weisberg, S.B., and Whiteman, E.A. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions. California Ocean Science Trust, Oakland, California, USA. April 2016.

A new report released by the California Ocean Science Trust and written by a panel of 20 scientists from California, Oregon and Washington, synthesized our current understanding of how the Puget Sound and other coastal waters along western North America are being impacted by ocean acidification. The report examined local reasons for why the west coast is experiencing exacerbated acidification compared to other oceanic regions. A major factor includes the massive amounts of nitrogen and carbon that are dumped into estuaries (particularly the Puget Sound) by municipal wastewater treatment plants and agricultural runoff, causing extreme plankton blooms that then lead to hypoxia and significant increases in CO2 production. Another localized factor is the characteristic of water being upwelled on the western coast. Water being upwelled around the Puget Sound contain naturally high levels of CO2 and lower pH. These local factors combined with the global increase in oceanic CO2 concentrations has lead the West Coast of North America to be one of the regions of the world most severely impacted by changes to ocean chemistry. The report concluded on a hopeful note, with a reminder that the local processes affecting ocean acidification are currently dominating over oceanic processes. Therefore, regions like the Puget Sound can take meaningful local action to mitigate these changes.

Sea Level Rise Modeling Handbook

Doyle, T.W., Chivoiu, Bogdan, and Enwright, N.M., 2015, Sea-level rise modeling handbook—Resource guide for coastal land managers, engineers, and scientists: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1815, 76 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/pp1815.

The USGS has released a resource guide on sea level rise modeling for coastal land managers, engineers, and scientists. The handbook defines, categorizes and builds criteria around the large amount of data, methods, and models concerning hindcasting and forecasting sea-level rise impacts. In doing this, the authors mean to aid in the appropriate application of coastal models for the broad range of disciplines seeking to understand the effects of sea-level rise. Depending on the research question being asked, scientists, land managers and engineers can use this handbook in order to apply the appropriate tools and models with specific parameters, and spatial and temporal scales.


Fire season becomes both earlier and longer

“In some areas, ‘we now have year-round fire seasons, and you can say it couldn’t get worse than that’”, said Matt Jolly, a research ecologist for the US Forest Service. However, they expect that it probably will get worse. This New York times Science section article highlights how fires were once confined to a single season but have become a continuous threat in some parts of the US and globally. Fires have occurred in the winter and in the fall in the western US, and in Australia have burned for almost 12 months. Already this year, the first Alaska wildfire broke out in late February, and a second fire occurred there just eight days later. On the border of Arizona and California, a wildfire was so intense that flames jumped the Colorado River. The key driver behind these trends is climate change. Declining snowpack leads to less soil moisture, and warmer temperatures result in increased evapotranspiration, which turns vegetation into kindling. Fire suppression has made things even worse. According to Ray Rasker, the executive director of Headwater Economics, a consulting organization on fire prevention, “It adds up to more people dying, more houses burning, and agencies devoting more than half of their fire budget to defending homes.”

Fuel moisture sensitivity to temperature and precipitation changes

M. D. Flannigan, B. M. Wotton, G. A. Marshall, W. J. de Groot, J. Johnston, N. Jurko, A. S. Cantin. 2016. Fuel moisture sensitivity to temperature and precipitation: climate change implications. Climate Change, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 59-71. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1521-0

The authors of this paper examined the sensitivity of fuel moisture to changes in temperature and precipitation and explored the related implications of future climate. They used the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System components to represent the moisture content of fine surface fuels, upper forest floor layers and deep organic soils. They also obtained weather data from 12 stations across Canada for the fire season during the 1971–2000 period and used those data to create a set of modified weather streams by varying the daily temperatures and daily precipitation by set amounts while calculating fuel moistures for all temperature and precipitation combinations. They found that, for every degree of warming, precipitation had to increase by more than 15 % for surface fuels, about 10 % for upper forest floor layers and about 5 % for deep organic soils to compensate for the drying caused by warmer temperatures. Results from three General Circulation Models (GCMs) and three emission scenarios suggest that this sensitivity to temperature increases will result in a future with drier fuels and a higher frequency of extreme fire weather days.


Climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation options for forest vegetation management in the Northwest

J.E. Halofsky and D L. Peterson. 2016. Climate Change Vulnerabilities and Adaptation Options for Forest Vegetation Management in the Northwestern USA. Atmosphere, 7(3), 46; doi:10.3390/atmos7030046

Jessica Halofsky from the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Science has published an assessment on the known climate-induced impacts and adaptation policies of forests in the Northwestern U.S. Halofsky and colleagues formed four science-management adaptation partnerships for national parks and forests in the Northwest: The Olympic, North Cascades, Northern Rockies, and Blue Mountains adaptation partnerships. Each partnership evaluated current literature and conducted their own research to determine the region’s climate change vulnerabilities. These vulnerability assessments were then used to develop the most appropriate adaptation strategies for each partnership. The products of each group were given to the national parks and national forests within partnership regions to be used as management tools. The author emphasized the similarities found between vulnerability assessments from diverse geographical settings, indicating that current options for adaptation are an appropriate basis for future management.

Old-growth forests provide temperature refuges in face of climate change

Sarah J. K. Frey, Adam S. Hadley, Sherri L. Johnson, Mark Schulze, Julia A. Jones, and Matthew G. Betts. 2016. Spatial models reveal the microclimatic buffering capacity of old-growth forests. Science Advances, Vol. 2, no. 4. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501392

Forest ecologist Sarah Frey and her colleagues from Oregon State University have recently published a study examining the effects of climate change on microsystems using fine-resolution climate models. Although it is understood that the microclimate of forested montane regions is influenced by elevation, microtopography and vegetation, the limited number of fine-scale climate model studies has left scientists uncertain of their relative impacts. Using boosted regression trees, the team developed fine-scale spatial distribution models of air temperature below forest canopy in mountainous regions. The study found all three variables (temperature, microtopography, and vegetation) were critical influences on temperature, with elevation being the strongest temperature predictor. Additionally, old-growth forest was found to provide an insulating effect on forest structure, acting as a buffer to a warming climate. The authors conclude that old-growth forests could provide a key ecological refuge in the face of climate change.

Searching for resilience for forest ecosystem services

Seidl, R., Spies, T. A., Peterson, D. L., Stephens, S. L., Hicke, J. A. (2016), REVIEW: Searching for resilience: addressing the impacts of changing disturbance regimes on forest ecosystem services. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53: 120–129. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12511

A new publication from the Journal of Applied Ecology offers an evaluative report on the issue of maintaining forest ecosystem services as natural disturbance regimes shift due to climate change. The authors looked to cultivating resilience as a way of strengthening forest disturbance management. In this report, the authors define and highlight the importance of resilience in the context of management, and discuss how resilience can be fostered for forest ecosystem services in changing disturbance regimes. The authors first examine how changes in natural disturbance regimes will impact ecosystem services, and present an approach towards resilience as an operational application. Ecosystem recovery in relation to the “range of variability” concept was found to be the most useful disturbance ecology method for measuring ecosystem resilience. The article then discussed pathways and principles for applying resilience, and discussed future research that must be done in order to further our understanding of resilience cultivation under changing disturbance regimes.

Water scarcity a predictor of tree 'heart attacks’

Anderegg, W. R., Klein, T., Bartlett, M., Sack, L., Pellegrini, A. F., Choat, B., & Jansen, S. (2016). Meta-analysis reveals that hydraulic traits explain cross-species patterns of drought-induced tree mortality across the globe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201525678.

Predicting the impacts of climate extremes on plant communities is a central challenge in ecology. Physiological traits may improve prediction of drought impacts on forests globally. The authors performed a meta-analysis across 33 studies that span all forested biomes and found that, among the examined traits, hydraulic traits explained cross-species patterns in mortality from drought. Gymnosperm and angiosperm mortality was associated with different hydraulic traits, giving insight into the relative weights of different traits and mechanisms in mortality prediction. Their results provide a foundation for more mechanistic predictions of drought-induced tree mortality across Earth’s diverse forests.

Land Use

BLM Plan for Western Oregon takes fire from all sides

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed a land use plan that would replace the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994 for 2.5 million acres of federal forest in western Oregon. The authors of the proposal sought to appease both the logging industry and conservationists with the mindset of producing a long-term sustainable timber base for the state. The plan, however, was met with significant resistance from many different stakeholders including logging advocates, environmentalist groups, and lawmakers. Those in congress believe such a plan must be proposed through legislation in order to preserve and create jobs. Logging advocates believe the amount of allocated timber is below the amount that would preserve sustainable forests and argues this cuts an unnecessary amount of jobs. Lastly, environmentalists believe the new plan has omitted commitments that were part of the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994, such as protections against environmental degradation and ecological damage.

Special Reports / Announcements

Another study says warming may be worse than experts think

Borenstein, Seth. 2016. Another study says warming may be worse than experts think. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/science/another-study-says-warm...

According to a recent study published by Yale University, computer simulations have been underestimating how much the global temperature is predicted to change. The study places the expected temperature increase close to one degree higher compared to previous estimates. The cause for the unexpected increase in temperature is believed to the result of clouds containing more ice than water. When clouds are comprised primarily of water they are able retain more heat than ice. The study reports that scientists have underestimated the effect clouds can have on the overall temperature, therefore resulting in the one degree difference.

NOAA releases draft of Western Regional Action Plan

The Western Regional Action Plan (WRAP) is a product of the Northwest and Southwest NOAA Fisheries Science Centers that outlines current efforts to increase the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information. The WRAP identifies strengths, weaknesses, priorities, and actions to implement the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy on the U.S. West Coast over the next 3 - 5 years.

Human health impacts of global warming

USGCRP, 2016: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.  http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQX

The U.S. Global Change Research Program has released a new scientific assessment examining the climate-induced impacts on human health in the United States. The report categorized seven genres of human health risks due to climate change: temperature related death and illness, air quality impacts, extreme events, vector-borne diseases, water-related illnesses, food safety/nutrition/distribution, and mental health/wellbeing. The Puget Sound was mentioned under the “water-related illnesses” section concerning Harmful Algal Blooms as a source of human health risk. Additionally, other parts of the Northwestern U.S. were mentioned under droughts and the spread of fungal diseases. The assessment concluded by highlighting populations of concern, as the health risks vary between groups across the U.S.

Federal Drought Plan

In March, 2016, a memorandum and action plan were issued by the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a committee formed from the President's Climate Action Plan. This federal drought plan will attempt to develop a long-term national preparedness across the U.S. by working with all levels of government and other stakeholders to improve localized resilience to drought. Read more about the memorandum and action plan at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/campaign/drought-in-america.

Taking Action

Administration proposes 'bold' climate rule for highways

The Federal Highway Administration is considering the implementation of an unprecedented requirement for state and local transportation officials to record and report their carbon pollution. The conceptually ‘bold’ move would be an attempt to incorporate air quality and societal health into the expectation of planners. According to a ClimateWire news article concerning the proposal, transportation accounts for 26 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions and on-road vehicles contribute more than 80 percent of that share. In order for the U.S. to meet the climate goals laid out by international treaties, nationwide transportation will be a critical source of carbon emission reduction.

UN takes significant step towards a new treaty to conserve marine life beyond boundaries

MPA Blog. (2016, April 11). UN takes significant step towards a new treaty to conserve marine life beyond boundaries. Retrieved from http://blog.protectplanetocean.org/2016/04/un-takes-significant-step-towards-new.html#more

The UN Preparatory Committee concluded the first of four meetings where members discussed challenges to ocean health and sustainability in order to draft future policy. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement on three out of four specific aspects of marine health that needed to be a global focus. The first agreement being the need to increase protected marine habitat. The second, more studies need to be conducted to determine the impacts of human activity on marine resources. And lastly the need to share technology and knowledge among participating countries so that the protection agreement can be put into action and maintained.

The case for a Washington state carbon tax- Op Ed by UW economist

University of Washington economist, Yoram Bauman, discusses his proponency of a carbon tax in this recent Op Ed from CNN. The Op Ed is based around a new carbon tax proposal for the state of Washington that will be on the ballot this fall. Called Initiative-732, the proposal includes a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide created by cars, power plants and other polluters. The revenue made by this new tax will be returned to Washington citizens as tax breaks. For more information on the tax, visit http://yeson732.org/.

UN takes significant step towards a new treaty to conserve marine life beyond boundaries

The UN Preparatory Committee concluded the first of four meetings where members discussed challenges to ocean health and sustainability in order to draft future policy. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement on three out of four specific aspects of marine health that needed to be a global focus. The first agreement being the need to increase protected marine habitat. The second, more studies need to be conducted to determine the impacts of human activity on marine resources. And lastly the need to share technology and knowledge among participating countries so that the protection agreement can be put into action and maintained.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Last year’s heat wave doomed nearly all Okanogan sockeye salmon

According to the recent Sockeye Salmon Passage Report from NOAA Fisheries, in 2015 nearly all of the Okanogan Basin sockeye salmon died before reaching their spawning grounds. This massive fish mortality corresponded with the abnormally warm river temperatures in the months of June and July. Ritchie Graves, a fish biologist with NOAA, was interviewed about the report by the Seattle Times, saying the “Columbia Basin sockeye runs are resilient and not threatened by a single bad year like 2015, but the fish would be at risk if such summers become more common due to climate change.”