NW Climate Science Digest

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

Calculating the role of lakes in global warming

Biologist Kevin Rose from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and colleagues are undergoing a large-scale study examining the potential impacts of rising temperatures on the carbon cycle of lakes. Lakes are a major part of the carbon cycle. The amount of carbon dioxide and methane that a lake emits depends on temperature, making Rose’s research question significant for understanding how carbon emission from lakes will change with future warming.  Funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers will project future weather conditions for 2000 lakes over the next 90 years. The simulations will include changes in weather, water temperature and carbon and methane emissions. The authors will then combine this data with known physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the individual lakes in order to produce a large-scale dataset of predicted changes to lake thermal characteristics such as the temperature profile, depth of temperature stratification, and ice cover. Such thermal features of these lakes will lead to the determination of lakes as either a source or sink of carbon under future warming conditions.

Uncertainties in modeling the snow hydrology of the Fraser River Basin in British Columbia

Islam, S. U. and Déry, S. J. 2016, in review. Evaluating uncertainties in modelling the snow hydrology of the Fraser River Basin, British Columbia, Canada, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2016-469

Scientists from the University of Northern British Columbia recently published their findings on the projection uncertainties of snow hydrology in the Fraser River Basin. The authors used the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model to examine several climate datasets. At various stages of the dataset implementation, the researchers assessed uncertainties. These stages include driving datasets, optimization of model parameters, and model calibration during cool and warm phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The authors found that predictions of temperature and precipitation varied across datasets and model simulations, with the most variation in mountainous regions. Overall, the researchers found that the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium dataset and the University of Washington dataset had reliable snow hydrology results across the Fraser River Basin, while other datasets had issues with precipitation and/or air temperature. Uncertainties were found in both the datasets and the model, revealing the need for improved methods and collection of observational data.

Plants’ future water use affects long-term drought estimates

Swann, A., Hoffman, F.M., Koven, C.D., Randerson, J.T. 2016. Plant responses to increasing CO2 reduce estimates of climate impacts on drought severity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (113): 36, 10019-10024. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1604581113

University of Washington scientist, Abigail Swann, and colleagues incorporated a new layer of complexity to the study of plant response to climate change in this recently published study. The authors used Earth Systems Models that incorporated plant-centric features, such as P-E (precipitation minus evapotranspiration) and soil moisture, in order to capture a more accurate projection of plant response to increased atmospheric CO2. The study found that the plant-centric projections included changes to plant water use that increased plant resilience during warmer periods. This was in contrast to results from atmosphere-centric simulations that project severe increases in drought-stress on plants. Such models saw increases in 70% of global land area while the plant-centric models projected increases in 37% of global land area. The authors concluded that in order to reduce uncertainties in future projections, models much incorporate drought metrics that account for the response of plant transpiration to changing CO2.

Carbon dynamics in a headwater stream located in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon

Corson-Rikert, H. A., Wondzell, S. M., Haggerty, R. and Santelmann, M. V. 2016. Carbon dynamics in the hyporheic zone of a headwater mountain stream in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2016WR019303

Researchers from Oregon State University recently published a study examining carbon dynamics in the hyporheic zone (region beneath the streambed) of a headwater stream in western Oregon. Headwaters are significant areas of research because they are at the exchange between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and therefore play a critical role in the carbon cycle. The researchers collected monthly water samples as well as other physical and chemical characteristics of the headwaters during baseflow conditions from July to December 2013. They found that Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) decreased and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) increased during baseflow period, making the hyporheic zone a net source of DIC to the stream. The authors successfully characterized the carbon dynamics of the headwater stream and concluded by extrapolating the role of the hyporheic zone of headwaters for carbon transport and transformation.  

Arid Ecosystems

Synthesis on the fire ecology of the Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse

Innes, Robin J. 2016. Centrocercus minimus, C. urophasianus, sage-grouse. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/cent/all.html

U.S. Forest Service researcher, Robin Innes, recently released a synthesis of the fire effects information and relevant ecology of Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse in North America. Using scientific literature available as of 2016, Innes cited more than 300 publications. Innes found that greater sage-grouse occur in 56% of their historical range (pre-1800) and Gunnison sage-grouse occur in more than 10% of their historical range. Additionally, Innes found that while fire removes sagebrush plants that provide essential thermal and security cover and food year-round, it also creates openings useful as lek sites. Lastly, Innes reported that sage-grouse generally avoid nesting in young (<20 years old) burns, and burned sagebrush communities may not provide adequate winter cover for decades following fire.

Environmental Characteristics of Spring Systems

The Desert Research Institute recently released a new report reviewing the importance of springs in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert. Funded by the Great Basin LCC, the report examined 2,256 springs, measuring physical and chemical characteristics such as size, water chemistry, vegetative cover and substrate composition. The report found that approximately 83% of the springs displayed evidence of anthropogenic impact. The most common impacts included diversion, livestock use, recreation, and dredging. The report concludes by emphasizing the importance of managing and restoring these spring systems in order to improve ecological health of these rare desert environments.

LANDFIRE has developed tailored materials to support macro reviews of the Intermountain Basin Big Sagebrush Shrubland

The LANDFIRE team, a national consortium of organizations and agencies, recently mapped the Biophysical Setting (BpS) of the Inter-mountain Basin Big Sagebrush Shrubland. The map consists of nearly 52 million acres and captures 12 unique models known as variants. The macro-review will be used to determine whether the model variants capture the actual ecological variation that exists across the range of the Inter-Mountains Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland. Comments from the reviews will be assessed by the LANDFIRE team and considered for incorporation into the BpS model. Provide a review here.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Forecasting climate change's effects on biodiversity hindered by lack of data

M. C. Urban, G. Bocedi, A. P. Hendry, J.- B. Mihoub, G. Peer, A. Singer, J. R. Bridle, L. G. Crozier, L. De Meester, W. Godsoe, A. Gonzalez, J. J. Hellmann, R. D. Holt, A. Huth, K. Johst, C. B. Krug, P. W. Leadley, S. C. F. Palmer, J. H. Pantel, A. Schmitz, P. A. Zollner, J. M. J. Travis. Improving the forecast for biodiversity under climate change. Science, 2016; 353 (6304): aad8466 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8466

A recently published article in Science described and prioritized the critical biological information that is currently lacking from projections of species’ responses to climate change. Species-specific details such as how animals and plants spread during their lifetime and how they evolve in response to changes in the environment are understudied and not well known for most species on Earth. This paper serves as a “call to arms,” stressing the need to refocus our research attention toward understanding such biological details. The authors identified six mechanisms that influence animal response to climate change: physiology, demography, evolution, species interaction, movement, and land-use changes. The team produced many proposals on how to collect such data in order to improve current models and build what they described as a globally coordinated effort to fill data gaps and advance our understanding of climate change impacts.

Climate change may be worse for lizards than previously thought

Sears, M.W., Angilletta Jr., M.J., Schuler, M.S., Borchert, J., Dilliplane, K.F., Stegman, M., Rusch, T.W. & Mitchell, W.A. 2016. Configuration of the thermal landscape determines thermoregulatory performance of ectotherms. PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1604824113

A team of biologists recently advanced our understanding of animal thermoregulatory behavior in a way that has important implications for conservation. Biologist Michael Sears from Clemson University and colleagues used spiny lizards to study how the distribution of shade within an animal’s habitat impacts its thermoregulatory behavior. The authors modeled spatially explicit movements of animals constrained by access to thermal resources, and showed that habitats with many small patches of shade and sun were preferred over areas with one large shaded area because the lizards were able to quickly and efficiently reach shade to cool off. The results from this study reveal a complexity to climate change modeling that has formerly been neglected. Implications of this study extend to all models researching the impact of climate change on animal behavior, suggesting that more accurate predictions will come from sophisticated fine-scale environments. 

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Northwest Passage clear of ice again in 2016

The Arctic Ocean experienced the fourth smallest sea ice extent in August 2016. Once again, the Northwest Passage, a ship route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Canadian Artic, is passable. The ship route has been roughly clear since 2006, and recently safe enough to allow for a luxury cruise (Crystal Serenity) to travel from Alaska to New York via the southern route. Due to climate change, commercial and luxury ship passage through the Canadian Arctic is expected to continue indefinitely. 

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Sediments control methane release to the ocean

Giuliana Panieri, Carolyn A. Graves, Rachael H. James. 2016. Paleo-methane emissions recorded in foraminifera near the landward limit of the gas hydrate stability zone offshore western Svalbard. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems; 17 (2): 521 DOI: 10.1002/2015GC006153

A new study recently published in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems examined geochemical characteristics of foraminifera, a marine protozoa, and other proxies as a record of methane seepage in four sediment cores from an area of ongoing ocean warming, offshore from western Svalbard, Norway. Foraminifera were used because their shells are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, so the authors were able to determine whether methane was released while their shells were forming or immediately after. The findings, however, showed no evidence of methane seepage in the Foraminiferal record. This lack of evidence implies that melting of gas hydrate is not the primary control on seafloor methane seepage on the upper continental margin, as is commonly accepted. Rather, the authors suggest that sediment lithology may be the dominant control of methane release, and conclude that more research must be done to further our understanding of methane seepage under future warming conditions.

Washington’s Island County gets an advance look at future sea levels

Coastal hazard specialist and Washington Sea Grant researcher, Ian Miller, recently completed a comprehensive survey of the future risk of sea level rise to Island County, Washington. Miller combined historical data from three GPS stations on Whidbey Island and four tide gauges around Island County as well as previously published research to project future scenarios of varying extremes for the coastal health of Island County. The report found that sea level is likely to rise approximately 5.9 feet around Whidbey and Camano islands by 2150. Using this data, manager of Island County’s salmon recovery program Dawn Pucci was able to locate five areas within the county that could experience major flooding in the future, and therefore should be prioritized as restoration project sites. These areas include Crescent Harbor, Crockett Lake, Moran’s Beach, and Useless Bay on Whidbey Island, and Livingston Bay on Camano Island. Ian Miller and Island County managers see this report as the first step toward obtaining confident projections of future risks to the islands. One key factor that influences the intensity of coastal hazards and is currently a weak point in the study’s data is wave behavior during storm surges. The advancement and continuation of this work will be implemented through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management grant that will eventually build a comprehensive report of the entire Washington coast. 

Future fisheries can expect $10 billion revenue loss due to climate change

Vicky W. Y. Lam, William W. L. Cheung, Gabriel Reygondeau, U. Rashid Sumaila. Projected change in global fisheries revenues under climate change. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 32607 DOI: 10.1038/srep32607

Scientists from the University of British Columbia recently published a study examining how climate change will alter fisheries revenues of maritime countries. Vicky Lam and colleagues used climate-living marine resource simulation models and found that global fisheries revenues could drop by 35% more than the projected decrease in catches by the 2050s under high carbon emission scenarios. On a regional scale, changes in revenue varied greatly, with the largest negative impact likely to occur in the equatorial Pacific. The region of the Pacific Ocean near the Northwest U.S. was projected to experience minimally negative impacts to fisheries revenue (see Figure 2 of the study).

Ocean acidification could weaken sea urchin sperm

Campbell, A. L., Levitan, D. R., Hosken, D. J., & Lewis, C. 2016. Ocean acidification changes the male fitness landscape. Scientific Reports, 6, 31250; doi: 10.1038/srep31250

A recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports examined the impact of ocean acidification (OA) on sea urchin sperm competitiveness. The researchers conducted a series of paired competitive fertilization trials under current ocean conditions and future OA conditions in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus. The study found that males with faster sperm had greater competitive fertilization success in both seawater conditions, but more motile sperm lost competitive fertilization under OA conditions. The results of this study suggest that the best males in current conditions are not necessarily best under OA, which could possibly change future traits of male fitness and subsequently alter the genetic landscape of marine species.

New report explaining ocean warming

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently released a comprehensive report on the potential impacts of ocean warming on nature and humans. Titled “Explaining ocean warming: Causes, scale, effects, and consequences,” the report synthesizes the understood impacts that warming will have across all marine life, from microorganisms to marine mammals. A team of 80 international scientists collaborated to produce this synthesis. Their goal was to report the understood consequences of a warming ocean and the known gaps in scientific knowledge as a call for further research. 


Particulate air pollution from wildfires in the western U.S. under climate change

Liu, J.C., Mickley, L.J., Sulprizio, M.P. et al. 2016. Particulate air pollution from wildfires in the Western US under climate change. Climatic Change 138: 655. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1762-6

A recently published article examined the impact of wildfire on air pollution and human health. A team of scientists estimated levels of fine particulate matter from wildfires in over 500 counties in western United States. Using a fire prediction model and a three-dimensional global chemical transport model (GEOS-Chem), the researchers examined this fine particulate matter from present to the year 2051. They found large increases in the potential impact to human health due to wildfire activity. 


Detecting forest fragility with satellites

Jan Verbesselt, Nikolaus Umlauf, Marina Hirota, Milena Holmgren, Egbert H. Van Nes, Martin Herold, Achim Zeileis, Marten Scheffer. Remotely sensed resilience of tropical forests. Nature Climate Change, 2016; DOI:10.1038/nclimate3108

A recently published study introduces a new method for detecting fragility of ecosystems to environmental perturbations such as drought and heat. The authors used satellite time series images to generate “temporal autocorrelation” as an indicator for recovery rate. They found that, in tropical forests, slow recovery rates rise during periods of decreased precipitation, implying a possible tipping point for forest collapse under drying conditions. The ability for researchers to monitor forest fragility via satellite indicators is a novel method and has the potential to be applied to other environments.

During drought, dry air can stress plants more than dry soil

Kimberly A. Novick, Darren L. Ficklin, Paul C. Stoy, Christopher A. Williams, Gil Bohrer, A. Christopher Oishi, Shirley A. Papuga, Peter D. Blanken, Asko Noormets, Benjamin N. Sulman, Russell L. Scott, Lixin Wang, Richard P. Phillips. The increasing importance of atmospheric demand for ecosystem water and carbon fluxes. Nature Climate Change, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3114

A collaborative team of scientists conducted a study comparing the effects of soil moisture supply and atmospheric demand for water on plant stress during periods of drought. These two independent features of drought are often coupled in studies of plant stress because of the difficulty researchers experience trying to separate them. This study managed to decouple these characteristics by analyzing data collected in hourly increments and therefore successfully drawing distinctions between changes in soil moisture and changes in humidity. The study found that atmospheric demand for water tended to be the dominant factor over soil moisture, displaying a greater impact on plant stress in temperate forest ecosystems. The authors conclude by stressing the need to focus on the impact humidity has on plant stress during periods of drought in order to improve the accuracy of climate model projections.

Diverse forests will recover better from climate change

Sakschewski, B., von Bloh, W., Boit, A., Poorter, L., Peña-Claros, M., Heinke, J., & Thonicke, K. 2016. Resilience of Amazon forests emerges from plant trait diversity. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate3109

A team of international scientists recently published a study in Nature Climate Change revealing the significance of understanding plant trait diversity when modeling forest resilience under future climate change conditions. The authors used a terrestrial biogeochemical model to simulate diverse forest communities on the basis of individual tree growth in the Amazon rainforest. They found that trait diversity functions such as ecological sorting aided in the forest’s ability to adjust to new climate conditions while maintaining its role as a carbon sink. The researchers conclude their study by emphasizing the importance of incorporating plant trait diversity in climate change research in order to improve the accuracy of projected ecosystem response. 

Climate Change Adaptation in Klamath-Siskiyou Forests

Oregon Forests and Climate Change, an Oregon State University publication, recently posted an interview with Terry Fairbanks, a silviculturist with the Bureau of Land Management, concerning climate change adaptation in the Klamath-Siskiyou forests. Fairbanks discussed climate change impacts specific to these southern Oregon forests, such as wildfire and changes to biodiversity, and described strategies for managing of the Douglas-fir community. The interview also addressed the specific adaptation strategies being implemented in this region by the BLM. Read more here

Land Use

Microbes help plants survive in severe drought

Khan, Z., Rho, H., Firrincieli, A., Hung, S. H., Luna, V., Masciarelli, O. & Doty, S. L. 2016. Growth enhancement and drought tolerance of hybrid poplar upon inoculation with endophyte consortia. Current Plant Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpb.2016.08.001

A University of Washington study recently published in the journal Current Plant Biology examined the role of microbes in plant tolerance of drought, revealing a symbiosis-based mechanism for resilience to climate stressors. The researchers analyzed the ability of young poplar trees to tolerate drought conditions with and without the help of added microbes. The study examined plant success over a month-long period. They found that the poplars that were given added microbes doubles their root biomass and increased their leaf and stem growth by 30% over those without microbes. Under drought conditions, poplars with microbes were also able to stay green for longer, indicating better water retention of the plants. The authors concluded that the symbiotic relationship found between microbes and plants could be utilized to mitigate plant community response to climate-induced stressors.

Soil management may help stabilize crop yield in the face of climate change

Alwyn Williams, Mitchell C. Hunter, Melanie Kammerer, Daniel A. Kane, Nicholas R. Jordan, David A. Mortensen, Richard G. Smith, Sieglinde Snapp, Adam S. Davis. 2016. Soil Water Holding Capacity Mitigates Downside Risk and Volatility in US Rainfed Maize: Time to Invest in Soil Organic Matter? PLOS ONE, 11 (8): e0160974 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0160974

A new study from the University of Illinois analyzed the effects of weather and soil on the yield stability of maize in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. The authors examined 15 years of weather, soil and yield data from every county within the four states and compared minimum yield potential and volatility of maize with changes in heat, precipitation and the water capacity of soil. They found that excessive heat and drought decreased mean yields and yield stability while precipitation had the opposite effect. The volatility of maize was strongly associated with the water capacity of soil across all states. The authors concluded that soil water holding capacity could act as an important buffer for maize yield stability under future climate variability.

Special Reports / Announcements

New public-private partnership and announcing joint declaration on leveraging open data for climate resilience

The White House is preparing to launch the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), a public-private collaboration among federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, private-sector companies, and civil-society organizations. The partnership will identify priority information needs; reduce barriers to data access and usability; and develop an open-source platform to enable sharing and learning on the availability and use of data and information for climate resilience. PREP emerged out of the work of the Climate Data Initiative (CDI), when a diverse group of organizations and private companies working with the CDI data decided to focus on the power of collaboration to address gaps they saw in the CDI and enhance access to climate data and information worldwide. It is being pursued in coordination with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data that was launched last year.

Taking Action

Updated Oregon Conservation Strategy was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Oregon recently released an updated version of the Oregon Conservation Strategy that was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Accompanying the Strategy is a new, interactive website that allows users to readily move throughout the document and find additional resources and partner efforts. Additionally, an upgraded mapping application from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website connects the Strategy’s priorities to maps and spatial information to help users visualize the new document’s components. View the new website here: OregonConservationStrategy.org.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Native Americans Adapting to Changes in What-Grows-Where

University of Idaho NW CSC Director, Steven Daley-Laurson, was recently highlighted in Yale University’s climate communication journal (called Yale Climate Connections) for his work to help build the Tribal Climate Camp program. The new camp had its first cohort in the summer of 2016, where environmental science professors from six different Native American tribes across the Northwest U.S. came together to learn how to support their tribe’s adaptation to climate change. The camp addresses topics ranging from basic climate science and management strategies to presentation skills and fundraising techniques. Read or listen to the story here.

Tribal consultation to update the FEMA Tribal Policy

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is undergoing a revision of its Tribal Policy, a policy that guides how FEMA engages in nation-to-nation relations with respect to tribal sovereignty. The current policy will expire on December 30, 2016, and the goal for this update is to improve FEMA’s nation-to-nation relationship with tribal governments in order to build a collaborative team of authorities ready to prepare for and mitigate potential hazards. Tribal leaders will serve as consultants during the drafting period via face-to-face meetings, webinars, and online comment forums. Tribal officials can submit comments on the policy until October 28, 2016. To submit a comment, email tribalconsultation@fema.dhs.gov or mail to ATTN: Margeau Valteau, Office of External Affairs (OEA), DHS/FEMA, 500 C Street SW, Washington, DC 20472-3605.

Threat of salmon extinction turns small tribe into climate researchers

According to a recent article from “Yes! Magazine”, a northwest Washington tribe is implementing innovative techniques for alleviating effects of rising temperature on nearby fish. The Nooksack Indian Tribe, located near the base of Mt. Baker in Washington state, plans to cool rivers and streams using methods such as planting large trees near banks to shade the water and creating in-stream habitats made of logs to cultivate “cool havens” for fish. This and other efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change on Nooksack lands are part of a project supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.