NW Climate Science Digest

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

Modeling Analysis: From Spatially Variable Streamflow to Distributed Hydrological Models

Fenicia, F., Kavetski, D., Savenije, H. H. G. and Pfister, L. (2016), From spatially variable streamflow to distributed hydrological models: Analysis of key modeling decisions. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015WR017398

One of the key challenges in modeling hydrological processes is how to divide up a given domain. For example, oftentimes spatially explicit modeling is needed in order to provide spatially explicit predictions of streamflow for a given catchment. In this study, the authors explore the development of distributed hydrological models, using the Attert catchment in Luxembourg as a case study. The Attert catchment is a 300-square-kilometer catchment with 10 nested subcatchments, each with different streamflow dynamics. The study divides up the catchments into hydrologic response units (HRUs) at a 6-hourly time step. Several model structures are used. Results suggest that geology-based HRUs are better at capturing spatial variability of streamflow than topography-based HRUs, which points to a more significant role of geology in determining streamflow dynamics (at least in this catchment). Although the study only examines streamflow dynamics for the Attert catchment, the methodology is applicable elsewhere in understanding which model structures are most appropriate for characterizing dominant hydrologic processes. 

Arid Ecosystems

Northwest Hops Threatened by Drought

According to a recent NOAA article, hops yield may decline in the next century, disrupting future beer production. Nearly all hops grown in the United States are grown in the Northwest, primarily in the Yakima Valley of eastern Washington. The Yakima Valley is an arid basin that relies on winter precipitation stored as snowpack in the Cascade Mountains as its freshwater supply. The valley experienced declines in certain hops varieties from last year's extreme drought conditions. Many growers were able to adjust their techniques for the 2015 season, however adaptation could become more difficult as such extreme conditions become more frequent. The article points out that the Yakima Valley may be particularly vulnerable because its water resource will decline as snowpack lessens over the next century.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Birds Try to Dodge Climate Change in a Surprising Way

Bateman, B. L., Pidgeon, A. M., Radeloff, V. C., VanDerWal, J., Thogmartin, W. E., Vavrus, S. J. and Heglund, P. J. (2015), The pace of past climate change vs. potential bird distributions and land use in the United States. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13154

A recent study, published in Global Change Biology, identifies the unusual movement of birds as they respond to climate change. Bateman et al. quantified the pace and direction of change for various bird species' suitable climate space over the past 60 years. The results revealed new and surprising knowledge of how birds are reacting to a changing climate. Many birds were found to be shifting ranges at twice the speed formerly assumed. In addition to this unexpected drifting pace, the majority of species' distribution shifted west, northwest, and north. This result contradicted previous predictions that birds would only shift northward. This interesting range shift direction suggested to the authors that temperature was not the sole factor influencing bird species, and that other climate conditions were also changing bird behavior. The study also pointed out that the areas projected to become optimal suitable climate spaces for birds happen to be the same areas that humans are most interested in populating and developing. 

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

2015 Sets New Global Temperature Record

NOAA Scientists confirmed 2015 to be the warmest year on record, according to this press release: "During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C). This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken. Ten months had record high temperatures for their respective months during the year. The five highest monthly departures from average for any month on record all occurred during 2015. Since 1997, which at the time was the warmest year on record, 16 of the subsequent 18 years have been warmer than that year."

Briefing on SNOTEL Sensor Upgrade and its Implications

Upgrades of a system of temperature sensors called SNOTEL (Snow Telemetry) caused inhomogeneities (step shifts) in recorded temperatures. This was particularly problematic for SNOTEL stations in the Intermountain West of the United States (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) because climate studies in recent decades have suggested that regions of higher elevation are warming faster, and many of these studies used SNOTEL data in their research. This report from the Western Water Assessment analyzed the inhomogeneities of SNOTEL data in order to promote a broader awareness of the issue. The study showed clearly where and when the recorded temperatures shifted, and the degree of inaccuracy of this un-corrected data. The authors conclude by stressing that SNOTEL data was not used by climate scientists for the analyses of temperature trends found in regional, national, and international assessment reports, such as the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation

Barnard, P. L., Short, A. D., Harley, M. D., Splinter, K. D., Vitousek, S., Turner, I. L., Jonathan Allan, Masayuki Banno, Karin R. Bryan, André Doria, Jeff E. Hansen, Shigeru Kato, Yoshiaki Kuriyama, Evan Randall-Goodwin, Peter Ruggiero, Ian J. Walker & Heathfield, D. K. (2015). Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation. Nature Geosci, 8(10), 801–807. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2539

A new study published in Nature Geoscience, examined the understudied dynamic forces that act on coastal waters during storms. These understudied physical forces include wave-driven processes, storm surges, and seasonal water level anomalies, all factors that can greatly increase coastal water levels during extreme events. Barnard et al. (2015) looked at 33 years of data (1979-2012) measuring wave climate, local water levels, and coastal change, for 48 beaches throughout the Pacific Ocean Basin. The authors found that El Niño was the dominant factor influencing coastal erosion, and that conditions of Northeast Pacific beaches often opposed conditions of beaches in the western and southern Pacific Ocean. From these results, the study concluded that opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean will be alternately exposed to coastal erosion and flooding, and that these processes will become more extreme as El Niño/La Niña oscillations are projected to increase in frequency.

West Coast study emphasizes challenges faced by marine organisms exposed to global change

George N. Somero, Jody M. Beers, Francis Chan, Tessa M. Hill, Terrie Klinger, Steven Y. Litvin. What Changes in the Carbonate System, Oxygen, and Temperature Portend for the Northeastern Pacific Ocean: A Physiological Perspective. BioScience, 2016; 66 (1): 14 DOI:10.1093/biosci/biv162

Physiological changes that are common to many marine taxa can be a useful measurement when applying regional research to global change. A new study published in BioScience examined certain physiological changes to marine taxa off the West Coast of the U.S. in order to develop a global model for how other areas of the ocean could respond to future warming, acidification, and low dissolved oxygen concentrations (hypoxia). The West Coast displayed all three of these ocean stressors, making it a valuable study area for understanding how a multiple-stressor ocean will impact its ecosystem. The team of scientists synthesized dozens of studies analyzing various physiological responses to these three ocean stressors and found that physiological changes in marine organisms can lead to changes in animal behavior, biogeography, and ecosystem structure. The study concluded that these ocean stressors (acidification, hypoxia, and warming) will most likely co-occur in marine environments, and therefore understanding their effects in concert with one another is critical.

Anticipated Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems

Bakun, A., Black, B. A., Bograd, S. J., Garc’ia-Reyes, M., Miller, A. J., Rykaczewski, R. R., & Sydeman, W. J. (2015). Anticipated Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems. Current Climate Change Reports, 1(2), 85–93. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40641-015-0008-4

 A new study published as part of the collection, Ecological Impacts of Climate Change, discussed the projected physical changes and biological responses of four coastal upwelling zones due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Bakun et al. (2015) used existing research to review four upwelling zones that occur on the eastern boundary of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins. The review was built as a framework of predicted ecological changes that could be used to understand future measured changes to these systems. The authors found that increased warming in the atmosphere will generally intensify coastal upwelling. This is most likely because the air temperature above land will rise faster than that above water during warm seasons, causing an intensified temperature gradient along coastlines and therefore stronger upwelling-favorable winds. These physical changes can have many biological impacts, mainly due to spatial and temporal ecological changes. With stronger winds, more plankton grazers may be pushed offshore, causing increased phytoplankton blooms. This could lead to increased frequency of hypoxic events, as well as decreased light penetration to deeper coastal waters. Changes in biological distribution could also impact species at higher trophic levels. The authors note the resilience of upwelling systems to variability, however conclude that these potential future changes will display unprecedented variability. 

The Voice of the Canaries in the Coal Mine: West Coast Shellfish Industry Responds to Ocean Acidification

Mabardy, R. A., Waldbusser, G. G., F Conway, F., and Olsen, C.S. “Perception and Response of the U.S. West Coast Shellfish Industry to Ocean Acidification: The Voice of the Canaries in the Coal Mine,” Journal of Shellfish Research, 34(2):565-572. 2015, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2983/035.034.0241

The U.S. West Coast shellfish industry continues to be one of the first to feel the effects of climatic extremes, and therefore knows the economic damage these events can have on its livelihood. Ocean acidification was pegged as the dominant factor that led to past declines in shellfish populations, so scientists from Oregon State University decided to survey the shellfish industry to measure their concern toward this indirect effect of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists surveyed 86 members of shellfish industries stationed in either Washington, Oregon, or California. Over half of the participants responded that they had already felt the negative effects of ocean acidification, and of those respondents, nearly all said they were "extremely" to "very concerned" about the phenomenon. The study also found that despite 80% of the shellfish industry believing ocean acidification to be a real problem, only 20% of the U.S. public seems to agree. This disparity in level of concern mirrors the disparity of those who have already felt its negative effects; a much smaller percentage of the U.S. general public have been directly affected by ocean acidification. Thus, the West Coast shellfish industry has become the voice of the canaries in the coal mine, warning others of this projected global problem.


Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013

Jolly, W. M., Cochrane, M. A., Freeborn, P. H., Holden, Z. A., Brown, T. J., Williamson, G. J., & Bowman, D. M. J. S. (2015). Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013. Nat Commun, 6. doi.org/10.1038/ncomms8537

A new study published inNature Communications examined global changes in wildfire frequency and season length. The authors used three daily global climate datasets to measure fire weather season length and temporal and spatial distribution from 1979 to 2013. The study found that the duration of fire weather seasons has increased 18% across one quarter of the Earth's vegetated surface. The results also exhibited a doubling of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons. Specific to the United States, the study found that over the last several decades, the U.S. has witnessed a marked increase in large wildfire frequency and duration with the greatest increases observed in the temperate coniferous forests of the Northern Rocky Mountains. The study concludes that these global changes in wildfire patterns could have significant impacts on global ecosystems, societies, economies, and climate.

Insights from wildfire science: A resource for fire policy discussions

A team of wildfire experts have produced a report of key science insights that can aid in public discussion on wildfire policy. The authors detail seven important concepts and highlight relevant publications. These key insights promote scientifically sound discussion for those engaging in wildfire discourse, with the hope of informing future wildfire policy.


Management Influences on Forest Carbon Dynamics in the Puget Lowlands of Washington State

Laflower, D. M., Hurteau, M. D., Koch, G. W., North, M. P., & Hungate, B. A. (2016). Climate-driven changes in forest succession and the influence of management on forest carbon dynamics in the Puget Lowlands of Washington State, USA. Forest Ecology and Management362, 194-204.

In this new study, Laflower et al. examined how different management actions combined with projected changes in climate would impact the composition and productivity of Puget Lowland forests in Washington state. The authors modeled forest responses to four management regimes under five different climate scenarios. Carbon dynamics between baseline and moderate emission scenarios were found be similar to one another. By late-century, however, under the high emission scenario climate change reduced forest productivity and decreased species richness across a large proportion of the study area. The authors also found that thinning and burning treatments increased the carbon sequestration rate under all emission scenarios.  However, increased productivity with management was not sufficient to prevent an overall decline in productivity under the high emission scenario. This research suggests that the carbon dynamics in the Puget Lowlands may not experience a dramatic change under  the moderate emission scenario, but that the high emission scenario may alter the successional trajectory of these forests.

Land Use

Fuel From Grasses Could Reduce Carbon Emissions

Hudiburg, T. W., Wang, W., Khanna, M., Long, S. P., Dwivedi, P., Parton, W. J., DeLucia, E. H. (2016). Impacts of a 32-billion-gallon bioenergy landscape on land and fossil fuel use in the US. Nature Energy, 1, 15005. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2015.5

A new study published in Nature Energyassessed the environmental and economic impact of transitioning from petroleum-based energy to cellulosic biofuel for transportation use. This study is the first to combine both ecosystem and economic models to produce economically feasible bioenergy scenarios that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard. The Renewable Fuel Standard was set to 36 billion gallons of biofuel, and is to be achieved by 2022. The results of this study suggest that 32 of the 36 billion gallons could be produced from grass-based biofuel that would lower GHG emissions without impact to our food supply.  The integrated model did not require farm land to be converted to energy crops, which produced a result with little to no effect on food production. Additionally, perennial grasses such as prairie, switchgrass, and miscanthus, were found to reduce GHG emissions because they required less fertilizer, little to no soil cultivation, and contained much of their biomass below ground resulting in increased carbon sequestration within the soil. The authors concluded that if renewable standards were met using grass-based biofuels, U.S. transportation emissions would decrease by 7%, or even 12% with the inclusion of a production tax credit.

Land Management can be Used to Counteract Climate Change Impacts on Wildlife

Greenwood, O., Mossman, H. L., Suggitt, A. J., Curtis, R. J., & Maclean, I. (2016). Using in situ management to conserve biodiversity under climate change. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12602

 Most of land management research deals with accommodating species migration and redistribution due to climate change, however less research is done on "in situ land management," where local land managers help species adapt to new conditions in their original habitat. This recently published study examined the possibility of in situ land management as a way of offsetting the negative consequences of warmer temperature, change in water supply, and sea level rise, on local biodiversity. The authors found that manipulating vegetation as a way of altering temperature and moisture levels could be a successful management tool. The study also discussed coastal management tools, such as reinforcing sediment supply in areas of increasing erosion. While the authors concluded that many in situ land management strategies were compelling, they also stressed the need for more research to be done in order to better understand their effects on the environment.

Special Reports / Announcements

Jason-3 Launches to Monitor Global Sea Level Rise

Jason-3, a U.S.-European satellite mission, was recently launched into a low orbit (830 miles above Earth) to continue a 20-year legacy of measuring global sea level change. The satellite will use a radar altimeter instrument to monitor 95 percent of the world’s ice-free oceans every 10 days. It will continue the 20-year long mission of sea-level monitoring, a project that has allowed researchers to quantify the rate at which sea level is rising. Data from Jason-3 will also be used for many other scientific inquiries, from deep-ocean and coastal modeling to commercial fishing and shipping routes. Find out more about the satellite at: http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/jason-3/

Taking Action

Is ‘Resilience’ Maladaptive? Towards an Accurate Lexicon for Climate Change Adaptation

Fisichelli, N. A., Schuurman, G. W., & Hoffman, C. H. (2015). Is `Resilience’ Maladaptive? Towards an Accurate Lexicon for Climate Change Adaptation. Environmental Management, 1–6. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-015-0650-6

This new study from the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science division of the U.S. National Park Service discusses the problems with the current definition of 'resilience' within the field of conservation biology. The term resilience has thus far been broadly and ambiguously defined. The term can be used to denote resisting and absorbing change, while also used to mean reorganizing and transforming in response to climate change. Meanwhile, many stakeholders are unaware of this broad use of the word, and continue to believe resilience signifies returning to an original state before a disturbance. In this article, the authors want to define clear terminology that distinguishes adaptation strategies that seek to resist change from those that seek to direct change, both of which are currently synonymous with the broadly defined term 'resilience'. The authors believe that the term must be more narrowly defined in order for joint-management efforts to succeed, and joint-management efforts are important because they typically produce the most successful adaptation plans.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

British Columbia First Nations’ Failing Fisheries

Weatherdon LV, Ota Y, Jones MC, Close DA, Cheung WWL (2016) Projected Scenarios for Coastal First Nations’ Fisheries Catch Potential under Climate Change: Management Challenges and Opportunities. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0145285. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145285

First Nations from coastal British Columbia (B.C.) have depended on subsistence fishing for thousands of years, and commercial fishing for hundreds. This relationship to the coastal ecosystem contains immense economic, social, and cultural importance. A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia used climate models to analyze the abundance, distribution, and richness of 98 marine species along the B.C. coast. The study found that most of these species declined regardless of specific emission scenarios, and that species distribution exhibited a northward shift. The authors further examined this result by analyzing the relationship between species abundance (potential catch) and latitude. A strong correlation was found between these two variables, showing that First Nation tribes along the southern B.C. coast would experience much more severe declines in potential catch than those along the central and northern B.C. coast. The authors conclude by highlighting the usefulness of traditional fishing management and local fishers' knowledge to aid in offsetting these potential impacts.