NW Climate Science Digest

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

Columbia River Basin Impacts Assessment – Quarterly Update

The Columbia River Basin Impacts Assessment is an activity of the West Wide Climate Risk Assessments (WWCRA), which is part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) WaterSMART Basin Study Program (WaterSMART Program) established under the SECURE Water Act (2009). More information on the background of this legislation can be found in the first Quarterly Update. Since the last Quarterly Update, Reclamation has been creating future climate change flows at specific locations throughout the Columbia River Basin. In addition, staff have been preparing the upper Snake River reservoir model to conduct operational modeling on the Snake River above Brownlee Reservoir. 

Washington Stream Thermal-Scape is Complete

The NorWeST webpage hosts stream temperature data and geospatial map outputs from a regional temperature model for the Northwest U.S. The temperature database was compiled from hundreds of biologists and hydrologists working for dozens of resource agencies and contains more than 45,000,000 hourly temperature recordings at more than 15,000 unique stream sites. The NorWeST project is funded by the Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and the project goals are to develop a comprehensive regional database and high-resolution stream climate scenarios to facilitate climate vulnerability assessments, interagency coordination of temperature monitoring, & research on thermal ecology. 

Low Mountain Snowpack Raises Water-Supply Fears in Washington

Washington’s snowpack is approximately half its average, which could prove problematic later in the year when the state relies on snowmelt for water supply. On January 1st, the Olympics and Central Puget Sound Cascades snow pack levels were only 27% and 34% of average respectively. The low snow pack levels may seem surprising because of recent of heavy rain. However, high temperatures in the region are what prevented the precipitation from adding significantly to the snowpack. Snowmelt is a main contributor to the Cedar River Watershed, which provides approximately 70% of the drinking water to 1.4 million Seattle-area residents. 

Storm Surge Inundation & Scenario-Based Projected Changes Map

Developed by the EPA, the storm surge inundation map is an interactive map illustrating the current worst-case storm surge and inundation scenarios on the American Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The map incorporates data layers from FEMA’s 100 and 500 year flood maps, NOAA’s Sea, Lake and Overland Surge from Hurricanes (SLOSH), and the National Hurricane Center's coastal county hurricane strike maps. The second map, EPA’s scenario-based projected changes map, is an online map that provides access to localized scenarios of projected changes in annual total precipitation, precipitation intensity, annual average temperature, 100-year storm events, and sea-level rise from EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool. 

Nursery Functions of U.S. West Coast Estuaries

Hughes, B.B., M.D., Levey, Brown, J.A., Fountain, M.C.,  Carlisle, A.B., Litvin, S.Y., Greene, C.M., Heady, W.N., Gleason, M.G. 2015. Nursery functions of U.S. west coast estuaries: the state of knowledge for juveniles of focal invertebrates and fish species. http://www.pacificfishhabitat.org/media/pmepsokreport/tnc_ca_fishnurseries_lowres.pdf

This report synthesizes existing scientific literature, expert opinion, and geospatial data on the presence of juveniles and potential nursery role of West Coast estuaries (in Washington, Oregon, and California) for fifteen ecologically, economically, and culturally important species. This report also evaluated many threats to estuarine habitats (including climate change) and the nursery role they provide to these focal species. 19 threats were analyzed, and habitat loss was the most prevalent threat among the 15 focal species.

More than $280,000 for Salmon Projects

State funding has been approved for work making the Nisqually River and Ohop Creek more hospitable to salmon. The Pierce Conservation District and the Nisqually Land Trust, leaders on the projects, are among organizations in 29 counties across Washington that will share $18 million in grants awarded to restore and conserve salmon habitat in the region. Some of the grant money will be used to remove Japanese knotweed in the Nisqually River basin. Reducing knotweed presence in the river basin will provide more places for Chinook salmon, a threatened species, to spawn, feed, rest, and hide from predators.

Largest Trust Water Donation in State History

The Cascade Water Alliance has agreed not to divert a total of 684,571 acre-feet of water from the White river that it was entitled to take. The agreement, which supports the state Department of Ecology’s Trust Water Rights Program, is part of a larger agreement dating back to 2010. The permanent donation, as well as a temporary donation of 154,751 acre-feet, completes an agreement made five years ago between the state and the alliance. The trust water donation helps maintain water flow levels in the region, a key indicator for fish habitat quality. Water flows for struggling fish in the White River will be protected for decades because of the permanent donation. 

Arid Ecosystems

BLM Embarks on Major Juniper Removal in Idaho to Save Sage Grouse

The BLM has announced plans to cut, chop, and burn native juniper trees across 1.5 millions acres of southwest Idaho in hopes of combatting a major threat to the greater sage grouse. The juniper trees provide habitat for sage grouse predators such as hawks, ravens, and crows, and these predators frequently overtake bunch grasses and sagebrush necessary for sage grouse survival. Treatment of the juniper trees is projected to take place over several years and will focus on trees located within 6 miles of the ~70 occupied sage grouse breeding grounds. Most treatments of the trees will involve mulching the trees on site or lopping and scattering them.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Natural Resource Assessment of Mount Rainier National Park

Hoffman, Jr., R., Woodward, A., Haggerty, P., Jenkins, K.J., Griffin, P.C., Adams, M.J., Hagar, J., Cummings, T., Duriscoe, D., Kopper, K., Riedel, J., Samora, B., Marin, L., Mauger, G.S., Bumbaco, K., Littell, J.S. 2014. Mount Rainier National Park - Natural Resource Condition Assessment. Natural Resource Report: National Park Service NPS/MORA/NRR--2014/894, p. 380.

Researchers from the USGS and other organizations have completed a Natural Resource Condition Assessment

(NRCA) for Mount Rainier National Park (MORA). The report is an evaluation of current conditions for a subset of the park’s natural resources and resource indicators in relation to reference conditions and values. Additionally, the report describes influences and trends in resource conditions, highlights emerging issues, and identifies critical information requirements and data gaps. The report highlights 14 key indicators: air quality, water quality, climate change, landscape, wildlife, glaciers, riverine landforms, terrestrial vegetation, soundscapes, and night skies. This report will assist park managers in their near- and long-term efforts to describe the park’s resource conditions and desired management targets. 

Bioinvasions in a Changing World

This report, released by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF) and the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), is intended for a broad audience of individuals interested in invasive species, climate change, and natural resource management. The report provides a brief overview of the connections between invasive species and climate change before evaluating how communities approach conservation and natural resource management. The report addresses a broader framework of invasive species management and climate change adaptation as tools to enhance and protect ecosystems and natural resources in the face of these drivers of change. The review of tools and methods will be of interest to managers working at specific sites and to individuals making strategic decisions at larger geographic scales. 

Wildlife Groups ask FWS to Classify Gray Wolves as Threatened

Impending regulatory and legislative measures to remove federal protections from most gray wolves prompted animal protection and conservation groups to call on the Fish and Wildlife Service to instead reclassify nearly all gray wolves in the U.S. as threatened – a lower level of protection than many wolf populations have. Currently, gray wolves are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as endangered throughout most of the species’ range in the continental U.S. However, wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon, and Washington are exceptions to that rule, where populations are not listed as threatened. "The reclassification of gray wolves to threatened status is warranted at this time because of the differing conservation status among wolf populations in different portions of the species' range," the 32-page request argued. 

The Many Dimensions of the Mt. Rainier Climate Crisis

Global warming is melting Mount Rainier’s glaciers at six times the historic rate. The meltwater runoff has lead to floods, rock falls, old-growth forest death, and is threatening historic national park buildings. As global warming intensifies, we need to decide: “Do we spend the money required to repair park roads every year? Do we move endangered plants and animals to places they can survive? What in the park is most worth saving? And how hard does it make sense to try?” 

Bird Carcasses Along Pacific Shore Baffle Biologists

Thousands of carcasses of Cassin’s auklets have been washing ashore over the last few months from northern California to Washington. The University of Washington’s Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team has discovered more than 1,200 carcasses since the beginning of fall. The majority of the birds have starved to death, ruling out the possibility of death from an oil spill or a toxic reaction to food. One proposed explanation is that the birds are starving as a result of an extremely successful breeding season last year. Almost every breeding pair laid an egg, and as the young migrate south for the winter they may not all be consuming sufficient food levels necessary for survival.

Grouse Rider Won’t Affect Conservation Plans

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told governors of western states that congressional legislation which could delay implementation of an Endangered Species Act listing decision on the greater sage grouse will not impact efforts to protect the bird. She went on to say that the legislation should not deter states from pushing forward with programs to protect and restore grouse habitat. In letters written to Colorado and Wyoming governors Jewell stated, “the rider does not supersede the court-mandated Sept. 30 deadline for Fish and Wildlife to decide whether to propose listing the bird for ESA protection.” 

Using Citizen-Science Data to Identify Local Hotspots of Seabird Occurrence

Ward EJ, Marshall KN, Ross T, Sedgley A, Hass T, Pearson SF, Joyce G, Hamel NJ, Hodum PJ, Faucett R. 2015. Using citizen-science data to identify local hotspots of seabird occurrence. PeerJ. http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.704

Seabirds have been used as indicators of ecosystem processes such as climate change and human activity in near-shore ecosystems around the world. A recent study published in PeerJ tracked the occurrence of 18 seabird species at 62 sites around Puget Sound. Despite historic declines of seabirds in the region, results from this study are optimistic, suggesting increases in probabilities of occurrence for 14 of the 18 species studied (including cormorants, loons, rhinoceros auklets, and harlequin ducks). Additionally, the study documented local hotspots for certain species, which may indicate important habitat or prey the seabirds depend on. 

Natural Resource Assessment of North Cascades National Park Service Complex

Hoffman, Jr., R., Woodward, A., Haggerty, P., Jenkins, K.J., Griffin, P.C., Adams, M.J., Hagar, J., Cummings, T., Duriscoe, D., Kopper, K., Riedel, J., Marin, L., Mauger, G.S., Bumbaco, K., Littell, J.S., 2015, North Cascades National Park Service Complex- Natural Resource condition Assessment: National Park Service NPS/NOCA/NRR—2015/901, p. 390.

Researchers from the USGS and other organizations have completed a Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) for the North Cascades National Park Service Complex (NOCA). The report is an evaluation of current conditions for a subset of NOCA natural resources and resource indicators in relation to reference conditions and values. Additionally, the report describes influences and trends in resource conditions, highlights emerging issues, and identifies critical information requirements and data gaps. The report highlights 14 key indicators: air quality, stream and lake water quality, vegetation, wildlife (including amphibians, landbirds, fish, and mammals), glaciers, soundscapes, and night skies. The data collected for the report spans decades and will assist park managers in their near- and long-term efforts to describe the park’s resource conditions and desired management targets. 

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Extreme Weather Events are Expected to Double

Wenju Cai, Guojian Wang, Agus Santoso, Michael J. McPhaden, Lixin Wu, Fei-Fei Jin, Axel Timmermann, Mat Collins, Gabriel Vecchi, Matthieu Lengaigne, Matthew H. England, Dietmar Dommenget, Ken Takahashi, Eric Guilyardi. 2015. Increased frequency of extreme La Niña events under greenhouse warmingNature Climate Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2492

The El Niño/Southern Oscillation is the planet’s strongest source of interannual climate variability, alternating irregularly between El Niño and La Niña. The 1998–1999 extreme La Niña event that followed the 1997–1998 extreme El Niño event switched extreme El Niño-induced severe droughts to devastating floods in western Pacific countries, and vice versa in the southwestern United States. During La Niña events temperatures drop in the central Pacific Ocean. Research led by Wenju Cai suggests that La Niña events will become twice as frequent, occurring once every 13 years instead of once every 23 years. 75% of this increase will occur in years following extreme El Niño events, leading to more frequent swings between opposite climatic extremes. 

2014 Hottest Year on Record

Preliminary analysis from a global network of measurements by NASA and NOAA suggest that 2014 is the warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880 – and possibly the warmest in two millennia. 2014 was 0.04 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record-holder 2010, and 0.69 degrees Celsius warmer than the twentieth-century average. These results reinforce that the planet is warming and that average global temperatures are currently exceeding those seen historically. 

Effects of Climate Oscillations on Wind Resource Variability

Hamlington, B.D., Hamplington, P.E., Collins, S.G., Alexander, S.R., Kim, K.-Y. 2015. Effects of climate oscillations on wind resource variability in the United States. Geophysical Research Letters, 42, 1-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2014GL062370

Researchers recently published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters evaluating natural climate variations in U.S. wind resource. Using cyclostationary empirical orthogonal functions (CSEOFs) researchers assessed the variability of the wind resource on annual and interannual time scales at all locations across the U.S. This study evaluated impacts on wind resource variability from the modulated annual cycle (MAC) and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and revealed variation in the wind speed of up to 30% at individual sites. The results presented in this study have important implication for predictions of wind plan power output and siting. 

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

NOAA Turning the High Beams on Ocean Acidification

NOAA is providing a grant of $1.4 million over three years to help shellfish growers and scientific experts work together to expand ocean acidification (OA) monitoring in waters that are particularly important to Pacific coast communities, such as in oyster hatcheries and coastal waters where young oysters are grown. Part of this grant will be used to increase the number of shellfish growers and hatchery owners that have the capability to detect ocean changes. This will be achieved by training individuals how to monitor OA and encouraging them to work together in communities of practice, developing more accurate and affordable sensors to measure these changes, and making the data from these sensors readily accessible. 

Reanalysis of Twentieth-Century Sea Level Rise

Hay, C.C., Morrow, E., Kopp, R.E., Mitrovica, J.X. 2015. Probabilistic reanalysis of twentieth-century sea-level rise. Nature, 517, 481-484. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14093

Estimating and accounting for twentieth-century global mean sea-level rise (SLR) is necessary for characterizing current and future human-induced SLR. Previous studies of tide gauge records concluded that global mean sea-level (GMSL) rose at a rate of 1.6-1.9 mm/year over the twentieth-century. To account for this rate, scientists have added measurements of melt water from land ice, ocean thermal expansion, and changes in land water storage and their total has consistently fallen short. In a paper published by Nature, Harvard and Rutgers scientists attempt to resolve the discrepancy by revisiting estimates of twentieth-century GMSL rise using probabilistic techniques. Researchers conclude that the GMSL rate from 1901-1990 was actually 1.2 ± 0.2 mm/year (compared to the previously established rate of 1.6-1.9 mm/year). While this research does help close the gap between model estimated SLR and actual measurements of SLR over the twentieth-century, the research also confirms the recent acceleration of the rate of SLR from 1993-2010. 

Sea Change - 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences

Ocean science connects a community of scientists in many disciplines - physics, chemistry, biology, geology and geophysics. Comprehensive understanding of the global ocean is fundamental to forecasting and managing risks from severe storms, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and managing ocean resources. In the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is the primary funder of the basic research, which underlies advances in our understanding of the ocean. This report addresses the strategic investments necessary at NSF to ensure a robust ocean scientific enterprise over the next decade. 

NOAA Releases Climate Science Strategy for Fisheries

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), housed by NOAA, has released a five-year climate science strategy (still in draft form) highlighting challenges faced by fishery managers amid warming oceans, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. The draft strategy outlines seven steps that will be carried out over the next five years. The steps range from “robust strategies” for managing fisheries under a changing climate to identifying “future states” of marine ecosystems. This strategy comes out one month after the NMFS, in collaboration with Rutgers University, released OceanAdapt, a website allowing fishermen and policymakers to track shifting fish populations.


Forest-Thinning could Help Prevent Destructive Fires

Washington DNR officials believe thinning and restoring more forests on public and private lands throughout the state could help prevent another wildfire season like 2014, the most destructive in state history. The DNR has requested a five-fold increase on the amount spent of forest hazard reduction over the next two years (a $20 million request). In 2012 the DNR made a similar $20 million request for forest health projects and received $4 million for thinning forests throughout the state. However, some lawmakers believe there will be stronger support for preventative measures this year following last year’s devastating fire season. 

Strategy to Protect and Restore Sagebrush Lands Threatened by Fire

Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, issued a Secretarial Order earlier this month calling for a comprehensive science-centered strategy to address the more frequent and intense wildfires that are damaging vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands, particularly in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and California. The strategy will be implemented during the 2015 fire season and aims to reduce the size, severity, and cost of rangeland fires, address the spread of cheatgrass, and position wildland fire management resources for more effective rangeland fire response. This Secretarial Order will help frame the third portion of the greater sage-grouse conservation strategy by encouraging further federal, state, Tribal, and local protection for those vulnerable sagebrush lands in the Great Basin states. 


Forest Resilience Varies under Climate-Management Scenarios in Oregon

Halofsky, J.S., Halofsky, J.E., Burcsu, T., Hemstrom, M.A. 2014. Dry forest resilience varies under simulated climate-management scenarios in a central Oregon, USA landscape. Ecological Application, 24, 1908-1925. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-1653.1

Determining appropriate actions to create or maintain landscapes resilient to climate change is challenging because of inherent uncertainty associated with potential effects of climate change and their interactions with land management. Using a set of climate driven models researchers analyzed the effects of management and natural disturbance on vegetation composition and structure in central Oregon under various future climate and management scenarios. Two management scenarios were considered: (1) a fire suppression scenario, and (2) an active management scenario. Results of the study suggest that future forest conditions in central Oregon will be different than they are to day, regardless of management scenarios. However, active management may increase forest resilience under a changing climate. It is important to note that a one-size-fits-all strategy may not be effective and adaptation strategies will need to be tailored to specific vegetation types and disturbance regimes. 

Special Reports / Announcements

Impasse over Climate Change Moves ‘Doomsday Clock’ Closer to Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock for the first time in three years. Citing unchecked climate change, the group moved the clock forward by two minutes, leaving us at three minutes to midnight. The group warned that the possibility of global catastrophe is very high unless quick action is taking on climate change and the modernization of nuclear weapons across the globe. Despite the stark warming, scientists say there is still time to turn the planet around, if citizens call on their leaders to take immediate action. 

Global Risks Report 2015

The 2015 edition of the Global Risks report completes a decade of highlighting the most significant long-term risks worldwide, drawing on the knowledge and perspectives of over 800 experts and global decision-makers. In addition to highlighting risks to mankind’s stability, the 2015 edition emphasizes potential causes as well as solutions to global risks. 28 global risks are parsed out into the report’s five traditional categories (economic, environmental, societal, geopolitical, and technological) and 13 trends are considered and evaluated as drivers of risk.

NOAA National Sea Grant Resilience Toolkit Released

Sea Grant has recently launched the National Resilience Toolkit, a combination of tools and resources developed over the past several years by the Sea Grant Network to assist local communities in becoming more resilient to climate change. As coastal populations grow, it becomes necessary for communities to become more resilient to several natural hazards, including water quality challenges, severe weather, and overall effects of climate change. Sea Grant programs are spread out across diverse communities and specialize in developing tools that are tailored to local needs. This toolkit allows users to learn about tools from across the entire network, giving them the opportunity to adapt tools for their own local needs. Each entry includes a description of the tools, a link for more information, and a point of contact. The toolkit combines more than 100 tools and will be updated as more tools are created. 

Taking Action

Designing Institutions to Support Local-Level Climate Change Adaptation

Julie Brugger and Michael Crimmins. 2015. Designing Institutions to Support Local-Level Climate Change Adaptation: Insights from a Case Study of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. Wea. Climate Soc., 7, 18–38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-13-00036.1

Climate change necessitates adaptation at all levels of social organization. However, the adaptation literature emphasizes that because the impacts of climate change are locally specific, adaptation is unavoidably local. In this paper, the authors derive principles for a design of institutions that encourage and support effective local-level adaptation and use a case study to explore how these principles could be practically implemented. Using principles derived from reviews of the literature on local-level adaptation, usable science, and boundary organizations, the authors synthesized ten design principles of their own. The case study illustrates how The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System (CES), implements these principles in its organizational structure and in the daily practice of Extension professionals. From the case study it was concluded that the CES is uniquely positioned to serve an important role in a national adaptation strategy for the United States in supporting local-level adaptation in urban and rural communities across the country.

The Difficult Art of Communicating Climate Change to Farmers

Researchers at Iowa State recently published a study that evaluated relationships between Iowa farmers’ trust in environmental or agricultural interest groups as sources of climate information, climate change beliefs, perceived climate risks to agriculture, and support for adaptation and mitigation responses. Results suggest that while most farmers believe that climate change is occurring, only a minority of those farmers attribute it to human activity. Most farmers were supportive of adaptation responses, but only a few endorsed green house gas reduction, suggesting that outreach efforts should focus on interventions that have adaptive and mitigative properties (e.g., reduced tillage, improved fertilizer management). 

Washington and Oregon Could Vastly Expand Renewable Power Production

In just 15 years solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and waste-to-energy electricity production could account for 98% of Oregon’s and Washington’s electricity needs. The Wind Energy Foundation’s Renewable America project states that developing these renewables would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the area. The 98% figure is derived from data the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Electricity Futures study, and is more ambitious than current statewide and federal goals, partly because they do not include some hydropower production. Oregon aims to reach 25% renewables by 2025 and Washington wants 15% renewable electricity production by 2020. 

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Squaxin Island Tribe Tracks Warm Water Impact on Salmon

The Squaxin Island Tribe is collecting year-round temperature data for dozens of streams in the South Puget Sound. Water temperature plays a critical role in salmon survival and reproductive ability. Without sufficient cold water adult salmon returning to spawn may perish before reproducing. Using instream temperature monitors, or thermographs, the Tribe has been monitoring temperatures in local streams for years. The year-round data collection enables the Tribe to observe trends over time. These data are being linked to the U.S. Forest Service’s regional database tracking the impact of climate change on stream temperatures, enabling the Tribe to observe how these streams will be affected by climate change in the future. 

Squaxin Island Tribe, Partners, Winning Battle with Invasive Weeds

After three years of work, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Mason Conservation District, have controlled the spread of salmon-killing knotweed in the Skookum Creek watershed. Invasive weeds outcompete native plant species that typically provide better habitat for fish and wildlife species in the region. Mason Conservation District staff sprayed knotweed plants or, at the request of property owners, swabbed leaves of the plants by hand. This treatment method resulted in the decline of total acreage of knotweed, and a reduction in knotweed density in the region. “The first step to controlling the spread of invasive plants was to understand how far and how fast they’ve spread,” said Sarah Zaniewski, habitat biologist for the Tribe.  The Tribe used GPS technology to track the progress of the knotweed removal.