NW Climate Science Digest

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

The Olympic Mountains Experiment

Houze Jr, R.A., McMurdie, L.A., Petersen, W.A., Schwaller, M.R., Baccus, W., Lundquist, J., Mass, C., Nijssen, B., Rutledge, S.A., Hudak, D. and Tanelli, S. In press. The Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX). Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0182.1

A team of scientists conducted a rigorous field campaign to study how precipitation in Pacific storms changes as it passes over coastal mountains. In this Olympic Mountains Experiment (OLYMPEX), researchers sought to validate physical and hydrologic information for the US/Japan Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite mission. The study involved several Doppler radars, surface stations, autonomous cameras, specialized research aircrafts, and specialized instruments that track winds and storm conditions. In addition to aiding in satellite validation, the OLYMPEX dataset will serve the general need to advance the fundamental understanding of precipitation processes.

Sensitivity of gross primary production in the Rocky Mountains to summer rain

Berkelhammer, M., Stefanescu, I., Joiner, J. and Anderson, L. In press. High sensitivity of gross primary production in the Rocky Mountains to summer rain. Geophysical Research Letters, 44. DOI: 10.1002/2016GL072495

Researchers from the University of Illinois, the National Aeronautcics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey collaborated to investigate how decreasing peak snowpack in the Rocky Mountains will influence terrestrial gross primary production (GPP). They used a proxy for GPP collected from satellite data to compare precipitation data across the intermountain west and found that annual precipitation patterns explained most of the spatial and temporal variability in terrestrial GPP. They also found that terrestrial GPP was approximately twice as sensitive to variations in summer rain than snow pack. The study suggests the rain use efficiency of Rocky Mountain ecosystems is strongly dependent on both precipitation form and timing.

Evaluating climate model simulations of drought for the Northwestern U.S.

Abatzoglou, J.T. and Rupp, D.E. In press. Evaluating climate model simulations of drought for the northwestern United States. International Journal of Climatology. DOI:10.1002/joc.5046

Researchers from Oregon State and the University of Idaho developed a framework to help evaluate the fidelity of global climate models (GCMs) to simulate regional drought. They focused on the northwestern United States and found that model fidelity was generally higher for drought metrics evaluated with evapotranspiration versus precipitation and for seasonal/annual timescales versus multi-year timescales. They also found that models systematically underestimated the severity of regional drought in the region of focus. Their research aims to do two things: help those who use regional climate projections where drought plays an important role and highlight shortcomings of model simulations of hydroclimate variability.

Temporal patterns and regional variability in 555 years of conterminous U.S. streamflow

Ho, M., Lall, U., Sun, X. and Cook, E.R. In press. Multiscale temporal variability and regional patterns in 555 years of conterminous US streamflow. Water Resources Research, 53. DOI:10.1002/2016WR019632

Scientists from Columbia University reconstructed and characterized streamflow variability at a continental scale using a spatially and temporally complete 555-year-long paleoclimate record of summer droughts. They found decadal-scale variability in the late 1900s in the western U.S., while similar modes of temporal variability were rarely present before the 1950s. The twentieth century featured longer wet spells and shorter dry spells compared with the preceding 450 years, and streamflows in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast are negatively correlated with the central U.S.. These streamflow patterns highlight the potential to mitigate some drought impacts by balancing economic activities and insurance pools across these regions in major droughts.

Arid Ecosystems

Science framework for conservation and restoration of the sagebrush biome

Chambers, J.C., Beck, J.L., Bradford, J.B., Bybee, J., Campbell, S., Carlson, J., Christiansen, T.J., Clause, K.J., Collins, G., Crist, M.R. and Dinkins, J.B., 2017. Science framework for conservation and restoration of the sagebrush biome: Linking the Department of the Interior’s Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy to long-term strategic conservation actions. General Technical Report. 213 pp.

The U.S. Forest Service developed this Science Framework, which is designed to link the Department of the Interior’s Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy with long-term strategic conservation actions in the sagebrush biome. A geospatial process is presented that overlays information on ecosystem resilience and resistance, species habitats, and predominant threats. Also, a resilience and resistance habitat matrix is provided to help decision-makers determine appropriate management strategies. It is anticipated that the Science Framework will be widely used to: (1) inform emerging strategies to conserve sagebrush ecosystems, sagebrush dependent species, and human uses of the sagebrush system, and (2) assist managers in prioritizing and planning on-the-ground restoration and mitigation actions across the sagebrush biome.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Climate change is increasing hybridization between native and invasive trout in the West

Muhlfeld CC, Kovach RP, Al-Chokhachy R, et al. In press. Legacy introductions and climatic variation explain spatiotemporal patterns of invasive hybridization in a native trout. Global Change Biology 00:1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13681

A team of US Geological Survey researchers and partners investigated how native and invasive lake trout have interbred, or hybridized, across the northern Rocky Mountains over time. They integrated large genetic datasets with high resolution climate predictions and fish stocking records. They found an increased spread of hybridization that was mostly driven by historical fish stocking, warming water temperatures, increased road densities and decreased spring precipitation. Hybridization between invasive and native species can threaten biodiversity, and these results suggest that human activities can greatly impact biodiversity. Thus, researchers recommend that analysis on how climate change may affect biodiversity in the future must be considered in context of past and present human impacts.

Where should we prioritize biodiversity conservation, given climate change?

Carroll, C., Roberts, D.R., Michalak, J.L., Lawler, J.J., Nielsen, S.E., Stralberg, D., Hamann, A., McRae, B.H. and Wang, T. In press. Scale-dependent complementarity of climatic velocity and environmental diversity for identifying priority areas for conservation under climate change. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13679

A team of scientists compared several common approaches to conservation planning focused on climate resilience across North America. They evaluated similarities in locations with high conservation priority and found that these areas are substantially different from each other in terms of both environmental diversity metrics and spatiotemporal metrics. Refugia, or areas where populations can survive in unfavorable conditions, were identified but not strongly linked with current conservation systems. The authors emphasize the important role that planners play in addressing uncertainty in conservation efforts and offer several integrative tools and approaches to more holistically approach ecological and physical processes impacted by climate change.

A systematic review of ecological attributes that confer resilience to climate change in environmental restoration

Timpane-Padgham BL, Beechie T, Klinger T. 2017. A systematic review of ecological attributes that confer resilience to climate change in environmental restoration. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0173812. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0173812

Researchers from the University of Washington and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center utilized ecological resilience literature to identify 45 specific attributes that are explicitly related to climate change. They classified them at different scales and identified which scales and approaches are more appropriate for different restoration and monitoring projects.  By summarizing these relationships in a decision support table, researchers illustrate how these classifications can be used to prioritize climate change resilience information in specific restoration plans. They propose that identifying sources of ecological resilience is a critical step in restoring ecosystems in a changing climate.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Severe erosion on U.S. West Coast during 2015–16 El Niño

Barnard, P.L., Hoover, D., Hubbard, D.M., Snyder, A., Ludka, B.C., Allan, J., Kaminsky, G.M., Ruggiero, P., Gallien, T.W., Gabel, L. and McCandless, D. In press. Extreme oceanographic forcing and coastal response due to the 2015–2016 El Niño. Nature Communications, 8. DOI:10.1038/ncomms14365

According to U.S. Geological Survey scientists and colleagues, the El Niño event from 2015-2016 was one of the most powerful of the last 145 years. Researchers investigated 29 beaches that spanned from southern California to Washington and found that winter erosion reached the highest levels ever recorded. Winter wave energy equaled or exceeded the measured historical maxima across the US West Coast and shorelines retreated beyond previously measured landward extremes in many areas. Researchers highlight that when planners assess coastal hazard vulnerability, it is important to consider the impacts of extreme El Niño events at different spatial and temporal scales.


All lands approaches to fire management in the Pacific West: A typology

Charnley, S., Kelly, E.C. and Wendel, K.L., 2017. All Lands Approaches to Fire Management in the Pacific West: A Typology. Journal of Forestry, 115(1), pp.16-25. DOI 10.5849/jof.15-092

A team of researchers inventoried fire-focused all lands management (ALM) projects to better understand their approaches. In ALM projects, managers plan or implement fuels reduction treatments across more than one land ownership. These treatments aim to reduce wildlife risk or increase forest resilience to wildfire. They focused on regions of Washington, Oregon, and California that are dominated by dry, fire-prone forests and found that ALM takes many forms. They also found that federal lands and land managers are frequently involved, and all the projects fostered relationship and capacity building for future ALM. Their research provides a framework for better understanding of ALM approaches and suggests areas for further investigation.

National cohesive wildland fire management strategy Western Region 2016 accomplishment report

It is the mission of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy to promote and facilitate resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, and a safe, effective, risk-based wildland fire response across the western landscape using a network approach. Its 2016 Accomplishment Report highlights progress in the following categories: communications, existing systems and networks, relationship building, engagement for fire adapted communities, implementation, large landscape collaboration, networking the cohesive strategy, and the return on investment.

Contemporary patterns of fire extent and severity in forests of the Pacific Northwest

Reilly, M.J., Dunn, C.J., Meigs, G.W., Spies, T.A., Kennedy, R.E., Bailey, J.D. and Briggs, K., 2017. Contemporary patterns of fire extent and severity in forests of the Pacific Northwest, USA (1985–2010). Ecosphere, 8(3):e01695. DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1695

A team of Oregon State University researchers and collaborators worked together to conduct a comprehensive examination of burn severity at all levels. They integrated Landsat time series data with field measurements of tree mortality to map burn severity in forests of the Pacific Northwest from 1985 to 2010. After examining temporal trends and spatial patterns of burn severity, they compared results among vegetation zones. Their results support concerns about large patches of high-severity fire in some dry forests. They also suggest that spatial patterns of burn severity are generally consistent with current understanding of historical landscape dynamics in the region. This study highlights the importance of considering the ecological effects of fire at all levels of severity in management and policy initiatives.

Bridging the gap: Joint Fire Science Program outcomes

Barret, S.W. 2017. Bridging the gap: Joint Fire Science Program outcomes. Fire Science Digest, 24, pp.1-12.

The Northwest Fire Science Consortium recently published a report summarizing studies that assess the effectiveness of research projects funded by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP). These studies identified several issues. In response to barriers to collaborative efforts, the Fire Science Exchange Network was established to facilitate communication between managers and researchers. Though JFSP-funded research is currently being used for planning, other barriers continue to prevent greater use of fire science information by the broader fire management community. JFSP aims to utilize the results of these studies to continue the iterative process of improvement.

Regional patterns of post-wildfire streamflow response in the Western U.S.

Hallema, D.W., Sun, G., Bladon, K.D., Norman, S.P., Caldwell, P.V., Liu, Y. and McNulty, S.G. In press. Regional Patterns of Post‐Wildfire Streamflow Response in the Western United States: The Importance of Scale‐Specific Connectivity. Hydrological Processes. DOI: 10.1002/hyp.11208.

A team of scientists published this review to highlight the effects of wildfire on hydrological processes. They specifically focus on regional differences in how streamflow responds in forests after a wildfire. They found that post-wildfire peak flows and annual water yields are generally higher in regions with a Mediterranean or semi-arid climate (Southern California and the Southwest) compared to the highlands (Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest). Through their research, they emphasize that understanding the effects of hydrological processes on post-wildfire dynamic hydraulic connectivity is necessary for risk assessment tools. This is particularly true at the hillslope and watershed scales, and the relationship between overlapping disturbances, including those other than wildfire.

Modifying LANDFIRE geospatial data for local applications

Helmbrecht, D.J. and Blankenship, K. 2016. Modifying LANDFIRE Geospatial Data for Local Applications. General Technical Report. 75 pp.

With the support of several collaborators, two fire ecologists developed a guide providing direction on the critique and modification of LANDFIRE geospatial data products for local applications. LANDFIRE data is often used for wildland fire and land management planning applications as it provides “wall-to-wall” geospatial data of vegetation, wildland fuel, fire regime, disturbance, and topographic characteristics for the United States. This guide presents primary considerations for using and modifying the data for use in local applications. It also provides examples and demonstrations of available tools and methods for completing common critique and modification tasks.


Economic opportunities and trade-offs in collaborative forest landscape restoration

Ager, A.A., Vogler, K.C., Day, M.A. and Bailey, J.D., 2017. Economic Opportunities and Trade-Offs in Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration. Ecological Economics, 136, pp. 226-239. DOI 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.01.001

A team of researchers modeled forest restoration scenarios to examine socioeconomic and ecological trade-offs associated with the alternative scenarios. They examined four U.S. national forests designated as priorities for investments to restore fire resiliency and generate economic opportunities. They found strong trade-offs and scale effects on production possibility frontiers, and substantial variation among planning areas and national forests. However, optimizing revenue to help pay for restoration projects led to a sharp reduction in the attainment of other socioecological objectives. This was especially true in reducing forest departure, or the loss of vegetation from historical conditions. This research represents one of the first spatially explicit, economic trade-off analyses of national forest restoration programs.

Land Use

Specialty fruit production in the Pacific Northwest: Adaptation for a changing climate

Houston, L., Capalbo, S., Seavert, C., Dalton, M., Bryla, D. and Sagili, R., 2017. In press. Specialty fruit production in the Pacific Northwest: adaptation strategies for a changing climate. Climatic Change, pp.1-13. DOI:10.1007/s10584-017-1951-y

This article is part of a Special Issue on ‘Vulnerability Assessment of U.S. Agriculture and Forests developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Hubs.’ Authors discuss how climate change may affect specialty fruit crops by threatening water sources, lengthening the dry season, raising temperatures during both the winter chilling period and the growing season, and facilitating the spread of fungal diseases and insects. Many management strategies that are already being used for other purposes may also be useful as adaptation strategies under a changing climate. These strategies mostly involve moderating temperatures and controlling or compensating for mismatches between phenology and seasonal weather conditions.

Increasing the role of winter crops as adaptation to climate change in dryland cropping systems of the Pacific Northwest

Stöckle, C.O., Higgins, S., Nelson, R., Abatzoglou, J., Huggins, D., Pan, W., Karimi, T., Antle, J., Eigenbrode, S.D. and Brooks, E. In press. Evaluating opportunities for an increased role of winter crops as adaptation to climate change in dryland cropping systems of the US Inland Pacific Northwest. Climatic Change, pp.1-15. DOI:10.1007/s10584-017-1950-z

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Vulnerability Assessment of U.S. Agriculture and Forests developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Hubs.” A team of researchers investigate how the long-term sustainability of wheat-based dryland cropping systems in the Inland Pacific Northwest (IPNW) of the United States depends on their responses to climate change. The projected climate conditions combined with elevated atmospheric CO2 may be beneficial for cropping systems in the IPNW and may provide opportunities for agricultural diversification and intensification. However, increased weed pressure, higher pest populations, expanded ranges of biotic stressors, and agronomic, plant breeding, economic, technology, and other factors will influence which production systems are successful under future climatic conditions.

Taking Action

Practical advice for facilitating actionable science

Jeffrey T. Morisette, Amanda E. Cravens, Brian W. Miller, Marian Talbert, Colin Talbert, Catherine Jarnevich, Michelle Fink, Karin Decker, and Eric A. Odell. In press. Crossing Boundaries in a Collaborative Modeling Workspace. Society & Natural Resources. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2017.1290178

This paper in Society and Natural Resources presents a case study documenting the mechanisms by which managers and scientists collaborated to incorporate climate change projections into Colorado’s State Wildlife Action Plan through a process of co-production. A critical component of the project was the use of a collaborative modeling and visualization workspace: the U.S. Geological Survey’s Resource for Advanced Modeling (RAM). Using video analysis and pre/post surveys from this case study, the authors examined how the RAM facilitated cognitive and social processes that co-produced a more salient and credible end product. They also provide suggestions to scientists and practitioners who want to implement actionable science.

Expanding vulnerability assessments for public lands to include social factors

This paper discusses the limitations of ecological vulnerability approaches taken by U.S. agencies as they incorporate climate change vulnerability and adaptation in their planning. The authors argue that ecological approaches have been the dominant framework, but are not sufficient for fully capturing vulnerability in complex social-ecological systems in and around multiple-use public lands. The paper begins with a description of the context of United States federal public lands management, with an emphasis on the Bureau of Land Management. Authors then review social vulnerability methods in the context of public lands. Finally, they suggest some key design principles for integrated social-ecological vulnerability assessments, which they argue are better suited to informing climate change adaptation.

Climate science information needs among natural resource decision makers in the Northwest U.S.

Allen, E., Stephens, J., Yorgey, G., Kruger, C., Ahamed, S., Adam, J. In Press. Climate science information needs among natural resource decision-makers in the Northwest U.S. Climate Services. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cliser.2017.03.002

This paper analyzes environmental change concerns and expectations about climate models among natural resources decision-makers in the Northwest in order to help define a role for university-based researchers as providers of climate services. Data were collected during a series of workshops organized by BioEarth, a regional earth systems modeling initiative. Eighty-three stakeholders from industry, government agencies and non-governmental organizations engaged with a team of academic researchers developing integrated biophysical and economic climate modeling tools. The diverse concerns and information needs of natural resource decision-makers described in the paper highlight the need for research teams to define clear and precise goals for stakeholder engagement. Utilizing the skills of research team members who have communication and extension expertise is pivotally important. Effective approaches include structuring group discussions to identify gaps in existing climate change impacts information, explicitly considering changing policies, technologies and management practices, and exploring the possible unintended consequences of decisions.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Tapping traditional wisdom to cope with climate change

This news article published by Inside Science highlights a current research project that integrates traditional knowledge in the context of climate change. The author emphasizes that many indigenous populations depend on subsistence farming, hunting and gathering for a large portion of their diet, which builds deep relationships with the land and acute observation skills. Aly Kassam, a human ecologist at Cornell University is leading an international effort to collect these observations from traditional calendar systems that mark the seasonal shifts with natural cues, what he calls “ecological calendars.” He and his colleagues have already interviewed Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and the United States and plan to monitor shifts from these calendars and analyze them, just like checking vital signs of the planet.