NW Climate Science Digest

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

Flood risk growing in the northern U.S., declining in the South

Slater, L. J., and G. Villarini (2016), Recent trends in U.S. flood risk, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/2016GL071199.

University of Iowa scientists recently published a study mapping current flood threats across the United States. The study compared stream height data in 2,042 streams and rivers from 1985 to 2015 and categorized the results using National Weather Service flood level categories. Findings showed very apparent trends across the country. Northern regions generally exhibited a growing flood risk with increased groundwater volume, while the opposite was seen in most southern regions. The largest decline in stored water was seen in central California, Texas, and New Mexico.

Scientists collaborated with Google to map long-term global surface water occurrence

Jean-François Pekel, Andrew Cottam, Noel Gorelick, Alan S. Belward. High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature20584

Scientists from the European Commission Joint Research Centre partnered with Google to produce the Global Surface Water Explorer, an interactive map of surface water change from 1984-2015. The tool was created by processing over three million Landsat satellite images and quantifying the data into a 30-meter resolution map. Findings from this dataset were published in Nature and include measured and evident impacts of climate change and climate oscillations on surface water occurrence. Among these findings, the authors emphasize that all continental regions except Oceania show a net increase in permanent surface water, and that areas of water loss are more geographically concentrated around mainly the Middle East and Central Asia. The Global Surface Water Explorer is now free and open to the public.

Mixed populations and annual flood frequency estimates in the western US: the role of atmospheric rivers

Barth, N. A., Villarini, G., NAyak, M. and White, K. (2016), Mixed populations and annual flood frequency estimates in the western United States: The role of atmospheric rivers. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2016WR019064

Researchers from the University of Iowa recently published their study examining the spatial and fractional contribution of atmospheric rivers in annual peak flow data. The study used 30 years of data from 1,375 streamgage sites to identify regions in which flooding was impacted by atmospheric rivers through the western United States. Findings showed the Pacific Northwest and the coast of northern California to have, on average, the highest fraction (~80-100%) of peak flows induced by atmospheric rivers. Localized regions, such as the Columbia River Basin, tended to experience a wider range of impact. In contrast to the Pacific Northwest and the northern California coast, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico exhibited no impact from atmospheric rivers.

Federal Water Resources and Climate Change Workgroup Releases an update to its National Action Plan

The Federal Water Resources and Climate Change Workgroup has updated its National Action Plan. Titled “Looking Forward: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate,” the report discusses three areas of action (research, management, and outreach) and offers updated recommendations for each. Recommendations span data collection and monitoring networks to increased training and support for communities and resource managers. Learn more about the report and the specific ways that all federal agencies involved in water resource management are making efforts to incorporate climate change into their mission here: https://acwi.gov/climate_wkg/iwrcc/.

Arid Ecosystems

An eco-regional approach to landscape conservation in the NW Great Basin

A new project called the Northwest Basin and Range (NWBR) Synthesis is a collaborative effort to bring organizations and communities in central/eastern Oregon, northwest Nevada, and northeast California toward a common understanding of a plan for conservation. Led by staff from the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GBLCC), the NWBR is focused on building a conservation blueprint that authentically incorporates the human dimension within the Great Basin. Learn more about these efforts from their website and/or read the latest Northwest Climate Magazine to find an article highlighting the work of the GBLCC and this project.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Climate change is already causing widespread local extinction in plant and animal species

John J. Wiens. Climate-Related Local Extinctions Are Already Widespread among Plant and Animal Species. PLOS Biology, 2016; 14 (12): e2001104 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2001104

Scientist John Wiens from the University of Arizona recently published a comprehensive report on local species extinctions that are already occurring due to climate change. Wiens used an array of range-shift studies to compile a synthesis of existing localized extinction frequencies. Out of the 976 species studied, Wiens found 47% exhibited local extinction. The highest extinction frequencies were found in tropical species, animals (compared to plants), and freshwater habitats relative to terrestrial and marine habitats.

Despite evolutionary inexperience, northern sockeye manage heat stress


Jonathan B. Armstrong, Eric J. Ward, Daniel E. Schindler, Peter J. Lisi. Adaptive capacity at the northern front: sockeye salmon behaviourally thermoregulate during novel exposure to warm temperatures. Conservation Physiology, 2016; 4 (1): cow039 DOI: 10.1093/conphys/cow039

Oregon State University biologist, Jonathan Armstrong, led a recent study examining the thermoregulatory abilities of sockeye salmon from the poleward extent of the species’ migratory range. Armstrong and colleagues analyzed the behavior of northern sockeye during a natural heat event in the Wood River watershed, a river system that feeds into Bristol Bay off the coast of Alaska. The researchers tagged adult sockeye with temperature trackers as they made their way back to freshwater to spawn. The researchers found that the northern sockeye managed to thermoregulate under heat stress as effectively as southern sockeye exposed to a much wider range of annual temperatures. Specifically, the study showed that fish moved to cooler waters (thermoregulated) when the surrounding water exceeded 12°C. The results of this research suggest a more ubiquitous sensitivity and adaptive capacity to temperature change across all sockeye salmon than previously expected.

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Soil carbon released into air might equal US emissions, triggering runaway climate change

T. W. Crowther, et al.  Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming. Nature, 2016; 540 (7631): 104 DOI: 10.1038/nature20150

A study led by scientists from Yale University examined the source to sink relationship of soil carbon in order to quantify its role with future warming. The team of researchers analyzed data from 49 field experiments located at various latitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The higher latitudes exhibited the most significant losses of soil carbon storage. This result, when combined with future warming projections, indicates a significant positive feedback and further planetary warming. The authors concluded that, despite the uncertainty in their data, soil carbon consistently acted as a source for atmospheric carbon.

Climate change will drive stronger, smaller storms in U.S., new modeling approach forecasts

Won Chang, Michael L. Stein, Jiali Wang, V. Rao Kotamarthi, Elisabeth J. Moyer. Changes in Spatiotemporal Precipitation Patterns in Changing Climate Conditions. Journal of Climate, 2016; 29 (23): 8355 DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-15-0844.1

A new approach for modeling storm behavior has been developed by researchers from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. The new framework, published in the Journal of Climate, uses new statistical methods to identify the properties of individual storms which allows researchers to track changes in storm frequency, size and duration. Due to the finer resolution of this new approach, the researchers detected changes in storm features that explained former contradictory results. Stronger storms that have been predicted with future climate change, for example, are not projected to be accompanied by an increase in overall rainfall. Using the new approach, the authors were able to explain this puzzling phenomenon: individual storms exhibited a decrease in land area covered during the summer.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Analysis of the quahog clam reveals how the oceans affected the climate over the past 1,000 years

D. J. Reynolds, J. D. Scourse, P. R. Halloran, A. J. Nederbragt, A. D. Wanamaker, P. G. Butler, C. A. Richardson, J. Heinemeier, J. Eiríksson, K. L. Knudsen, I. R. Hall. Annually resolved North Atlantic marine climate over the last millennium. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 13502 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13502

A collaborative team of researchers have used growth rings in the shells of the longest-living animal, the quahog clam, to obtain an absolutely dated marine 18O archive for the past 1,000 years. Obtained from the North Icelandic shelf, the record lengthens our historical knowledge of the planet’s climate system by nearly a magnitude of ten. The record shows that before the industrial period (1000-1800), the North Atlantic ocean was a dominant driver in modulating the planet’s climate in response to solar and volcanic forcing. However, this observed relationship ceased during the industrial period and the onset of human-induced climate change. During the industrial period (1800-2000), the North Atlantic exhibited synchronized changes with the atmosphere, suggesting that anthropogenic climate change may be masking the natural dynamics of the planet’s climatic system.

Kelp beats the heat

Daniel Reed, Libe Washburn, Andrew Rassweiler, Robert Miller, Tom Bell, Shannon Harrer. Extreme warming challenges sentinel status of kelp forests as indicators of climate change. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 13757 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13757

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara recently released their study examining the effect of extreme warming on kelp forests. The researchers collected a decade of oceanographic and ecological data along an 80km stretch of the Santa Barbara Channel and were able to capture the recent extreme warming event along the western coast of North America. Using this temporal record, the team assessed the kelp forest’s resilience throughout the warming event and, surprisingly, found this ecosystem to exhibit little sensitivity. This study is significant because it contradicts the sentinel status given to kelp forests, as they are commonly understood to be sensitive to temperature change.

Ocean acidification study offers warnings for marine life, habitats

Sunday et al. 2017. Ocean acidification can mediate biodiversity shifts by changing biogenic habitat. Nature Climate Change, 7: 81-85. doi:10.1038/nclimate3161

An international team of scientists, including University of Washington professor Terrie Klinger, recently published a comprehensive study of the effects of ocean acidification on the structure and complexity of living habitats such as coral reefs, kelp forests and seagrasses. This study is unique in that it reports on the effects to habitats as a whole rather than individual species. Analyses from this multidimensional report predict declines in the biodiversity of species in coral reefs, mussel beds and kelp forests, however an increase in the biodiversity of species from seagrass habitats. Predictions of decreased biodiversity were supported by available in situ data, however lacked evidence for the predicted enhancement of seagrass biodiversity.


U.S. federal fire and forest policy: emphasizing resilience in dry forests

Stephens, S. L., Collins, B. M., Biber, E. and Fulé, P. Z. (2016), U.S. federal fire and forest policy: emphasizing resilience in dry forests. Ecosphere, 7: n/a, e01584. doi:10.1002/ecs2.1584

A new report released in the journal Ecosphere proposes a revision to federal forest fire policy. Authored by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Northern Arizona University, the report makes recommendations geared toward improving the management of forest restoration and wildland fire. The proposal includes giving forest restoration equal priority to other fields of land management, rewriting federal planning documents to disincentivize fire suppression and incentivize managed wildland fire, new federal partnerships with States and local governments, and efforts to manage for long-term forest resilience in addition to short-term fire suppression.

New study finds surprising culprit drives forest fire behavior

Taylor, A.H., Trouet, V., Skinner, C.N., Stephens, S. 2016. Socioecological transitions trigger fire regime shifts and modulate fire–climate interactions in the Sierra Nevada, USA, 1600–2015 CE. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 48(13684-13689). Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1609775113

Researchers across the United States collaborated to better understand the forces acting upon fire activity. Led by Alan Taylor from Pennsylvania State, the researchers combined tree-ring-based records of Sierra Nevada fire history with a 20th Century fire record based on annual area burned to develop a 415 year-long archive of fire activity. The study found that human activity, as opposed to climate change, has the greatest impact on forest fire behavior. The findings suggest that land managers and landowners can affect fire behavior through methods that make forest more resilient. The authors conclude that by changing land use, we can buffer some of the effects of climate change in forest fires.

Influence of fire disturbance and biophysical heterogeneity on pre-settlement ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests

Johnston, J. D., J. D. Bailey, and C. J. Dunn. 2016. Influence of fire disturbance and biophysical heterogeneity on pre-settlement ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests. Ecosphere 7(11):e01581. 10.1002/ecs2.1581

Researchers from Oregon State University studied the relative influence of fire frequency, climate, soils, and topography on forests in Oregon’s southern Blue Mountains. Recently published in the journal Ecosphere, the study describes the relative influence of these variables on forest sites spanning a broad range of productivity. The researchers found that topographic position and vapor pressure deficit were stronger forces acting upon site-scale forest structure and composition than fire frequency. Within sites, however, soil water was the most important influence. Finally, the study concluded that frequent fire had a uniform influence across all forest dynamics, suggesting that management plans to reduce fuel and restore frequent fires is appropriate across all sites in the southern Blue Mountains.


Changing disturbance regimes, ecological memory, and forest resilience

Johnstone, J.F., Allen, C.D., Franklin, J.F., Frelich, L.E., Harvey, B.J., Higuera, P.E., Mack, M.C., Meentemeyer, R.K., Metz, M.R., Perry, G.L. and Schoennagel, T., 2016. Changing disturbance regimes, ecological memory, and forest resilience. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(7), pp.369-378.

A collaborative team of researchers from the United States, Canada, and New Zealand recently published a report examining the impact of ecological memory on forest resilience during disturbance regimes. Ecological memory is defined as the physiological and material traits imprinted within an ecosystem from a past disturbance event. These “legacies” of disturbance can act as a form of resilience when future disturbance characteristics support or maintain the legacies. Conversely, if the environmental conditions change and future disturbance is unprecedented, ecosystems can fall into a “resilience debt.” The report published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment outlines a new ecosystem resilience framework that includes the identification of legacies that support resilience in vulnerable ecosystems.

Competition alters tree growth responses to climate at individual and stand scales

Ford, Kevin R.; Breckheimer, Ian K.; Franklin, Jerry F.; Freund, James A.; Kroiss, Steve J.; Larson, Andrew J.; Theobald, Elinore J.; HilleRisLambers, Janneke. 2015. Competition alters tree growth responses to climate at individual and stand scales. In: Stanton, Sharon M.; Christensen, Glenn A., comps. 2015. Pushing boundaries: new directions in inventory techniques and applications: Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) symposium 2015. 2015 December 8–10; Portland, Oregon. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-931. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. p. 391.

A large team of scientists examined how competition affects tree growth and alters their response to climate change in a study recently published in the General Technical Reports of the United States Forest Service. The team used 32 years of forest monitoring data from mature and old-growth stands of forests in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington to characterize the joint effects of climate and competition on diameter growth. Overall, individual growth was sensitive to climate under low competition but was not sensitive under high competition. From these results, the authors predicted that individual growth in less dense (lower competition) stands will increase with warming. On the stand-scale, the authors predicted that growth responses to climate change will be worse at low density, implying that higher density (higher competition) stands will experience increased growth on the stand-level. The study concluded that competition will likely mediate the impacts of climate change on tree growth.

Warming could slow upslope migration of trees

Kueppers, L. M., Conlisk, E., Castanha, C., Moyes, A. B., Germino, M. J., de Valpine, P., Torn, M. S. and Mitton, J. B. 2016. Warming and provenance limit tree recruitment across and beyond the elevation range of subalpine forest. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13561

A new study published in Global Change Biology has found evidence against the common assumption of tree migration due to climate change. The two species, Engelmann spruce and limber pine, may be too affected by warming during germination to keep pace with tree migration. The study was conducted by scientists from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Merced, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The scientists conducted an empirical study by planting seed gardens at three different elevations and manipulating their local climate through infrared heaters. They found that under warming conditions, seedlings survival was reduced at all elevations, rather than only at lower elevations. These empirical insights could help improve models that project species range migration under climate change.

Land Use

Mitigating climate change through managing constructed-microbial communities in agriculture

Hamilton, C.E., Bever, J.D., Labbé, J., Yang, X. and Yin, H., 2016. Mitigating climate change through managing constructed-microbial communities in agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 216, pp.304-308.

Scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Indiana University, and the Chinese Academy of Forestry recently published a paper examining a new approach to increasing crop production while reducing environmental costs. The authors tested the hypothesis that mutualistic plant-microbe interactions could improve resistance and resilience to geological, biological, and climatic impacts on crop productivity. Outlined in the paper is a comprehensive report on the feasibility and significance of this approach to agriculture.

Special Reports / Announcements

A New Interactive Education Module on Climate Change Responses

“The Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC; www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/) has released a new interactive online education module on climate change adaptation responses. The module, “Responses to Climate Change: What You Need to Know”, provides a brief overview of adaptation options for resistance, resilience, and transition, and how to incorporate these ideas into natural resource planning and activities. Interactive features allow users to control their learning experience, with opportunities to explore outside links and see examples of how managers are adapting to climate change on the ground.  The main material is followed by a regionally-specific activity that engages users in creating their own adaptation plan based on real-world examples. Completing the activity will generate a personalized certificate.  The module was designed to be approachable and flexible for busy professionals and others, like the general public, who wish to understand options for climate change adaptation.  This is the third module in a series of education modules produced by the CCRC.  The first education module, “Climate Change Science and Modeling”, covers the fundamentals of climate change science, and the second module, “Climate Change Effects on Forests and Grasslands” builds on that foundation, examining climate change effects around the country.  This third new module completes the series by focusing on solutions for adapting ecosystems to climate change.  The climate change modules are available at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/education.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has published a new report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2016 (Fourth Edition)

‘The Earth's climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events – like heavy rainstorms and record high temperatures – are already happening. Many of these observed changes are linked to the rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, caused by human activities. EPA partners with more than 40 data contributors from various government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations to compile a key set of indicators related to the causes and effects of climate change.’ To order a free copy of the report, send a request to EPA’s Climate Change Indicators Team at climateindicators@epa.gov.

New report from Yale Program on Climate Change Communication describes how Americans view global warming and clean energy policies

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released their findings of a post-election survey asking registered voters their views on global warming and clean energy policies. Included in the list of findings were topics ranging from the U.S. involvement in international agreements, domestic funding of clean energy, and the general outlook of reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the new administration. Read the full report here: http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-november-2016/2/

Taking Action

Tulalips, scientists push for local efforts on climate issues

The Tulalip Indian Reservation held a workshop in December 2016 focusing on the coupled effects of rising seas and altered precipitation patterns being felt by coastal communities and ecosystems (called the “coastal squeeze”). This was the third in a series of workshops aimed to build connections between government agencies and nongovernmental organizations in order to take constructive, local action to meet Puget Sound Partnership climate goals for 2020. Learn more about content from the workshop here: http://www.heraldnet.com/news/workshop-about-environmental-issues-urges-...

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Engaging tribes in sustainable water resources topics and management

Chief, K., Meadow, A. and Whyte, K., 2016. Engaging Southwestern Tribes in Sustainable Water Resources Topics and Management. Water, 8(8), p.350.

A paper released in the journal Water discussed the topic of tribal engagement in sustainable water resource topics and management. Authored by researchers from the University of Arizona and Michigan State University, the paper outlined the context of current indigenous water management issues, synthesized various approaches to engage indigenous persons, communities and governments, and compared the successes of five engagement examples that highlight methods for collaboration. The paper was based on data from Southwestern U.S. tribes, however can be applied to other regions of the United States.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe builds logjams for salmon habitat

Salmon habitat in the Gray Wolf River was degraded by wood removal projects in the 1960s and has never recovered. That is why the Jamestown K’Klallam Tribe has taken it upon themselves to reform the river into an environment conducive for laying eggs by building logjams out of rocks and logs with rootwads. Delivered by helicopter, the logs were part of an engineering design based off of the natural log-jamming mechanism of the river. The $495,000 project was funded by the tribe with support from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Climate change and our natural resources: A report from the treaty tribes in western Washington

In November 2016, the treaty tribes in western Washington released a comprehensive report outlining the ways in which the tribes and their natural resources are impacted by climate change. The report emphasizes every treaty-protected resource that is under threat, including fish and shellfish abundance, migration of wild game, loss of culturally significant sites due to flooding, landslides, or infrastructure damage, and declines in human health due to poor air quality, heat stress, and the spread of diseases. The report also discusses current climate science and the ways in which the tribes are taking action to prevent worse harm from climate change.