NW Climate Science Digest

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

The 2014/2015 snowpack drought in Washington State and its climate forcing

Fosu, B.O., and Coauthors, 2016: The 2014/2015 Snowpack Drought in Washington State and its Climate Forcing [in “Explaining Extremes of 2015 from a Climate Perspective”]. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 97 (12), S19–S24, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0149.

The American Meteorological Society has released its 5th annual report of extreme events from the previous year. Included in the report is a section titled “The 2014/2015 Snowpack Drought in Washington State and its Climate Forcing.” Authored by Boniface Fosu and colleagues, the article discussed the “snowpack drought” of 2015, where an alteration in temperature caused a reduction in snowfall and an increase in rainfall, and consequently reduced snowpack that led to drought conditions. The authors concluded that a significant portion of the change in precipitation was due to changes in circulation patterns that were associated with the North Pacific climate variability. Specifically, the authors highlighted the North Pacific Index, a low frequency variability, as the driver for the cyclical relationship between temperature and precipitation.

Linking hydroclimate to fish phenology and habitat use with ichthyographs

Flitcroft, R.L., Lewis, S.L., Arismendi, I., LovellFord, R., Santelmann, M.V., Safeeq, M. and Grant, G., 2016. Linking Hydroclimate to Fish Phenology and Habitat Use with Ichthyographs. PloS one11(12), p.e0168831.

The authors of this recent PLoS ONE paper used long-term datasets of daily flow, temperature, and fish counts from Winchester Dam in southern Oregon to understand links between the phenology of upstream migration and environmental regimes. The authors used a new technique that synthesized large amounts of data related to fish migration on the North Umpqua River into what they call an “ichthyograph.” Their ichthyographs show the general patterns in upstream migration for six fish species native to the Northwest – steelhead, sucker, chinook salmon, lamprey, cutthroat trout and coho salmon. Authors hope that the ichthyographs will help fisheries managers assess the impacts of climate change or human-related activity such as water control and diversion, floodplain stabilization and road construction.

Arid Ecosystems

Range-wide connectivity of priority areas for Greater Sage-Grouse: Implications for long-term conservation from graph theory

Crist, M.R., Knick, S.T. and Hanser, S.E., 2017. Range-wide connectivity of priority areas for Greater Sage-Grouse: Implications for long-term conservation from graph theory. The Condor.

Researcher Michele Crist and colleagues from the United States Geological Survey recently published a new method for prioritizing areas of sagebrush habitat that support Greater Sage-Grouse populations. Called graph theory, the statistical technique is a way of quantifying the network role of each area by assigning nodes to priority areas and revealing the overall interconnectedness of the areas to other sagebrush habitats. The authors emphasized the need to maintain corridors between habitats in order to sustain genetic variability and biodiversity of the sagebrush ecosystem.

Join the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Co-operative (GBLCC)’s Public Forum

The GBLCC recently launched a public forum to help shape the landscape-scale conservation work happening in the Great Basin. The forum is accessible here, and will remain open through February 6, 2017.  The Public Forum is a short-term, interactive website where visitors can learn about the Great Basin LCC’s recent efforts and provide input on future work, including:

  • Future webinar topics and other opportunities for information sharing

  • Rangeland fire prevention, management and restoration

  • Expanding resistance and resilience work to forests and woodlands

  • Working with tribal partners

  • Suggestions for new Steering Committee members

The GBLCC is hoping to receive input from as many people as possible and would appreciate your help spreading the word. Have questions? Email: info@greatbasinlcc.org.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Effects of past climate change on Heermann's Gull from late Quaternary to present

Ruiz, E.A., Velarde, E. and Aguilar, A., 2017. Demographic history of Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) from late Quaternary to present: Effects of past climate change in the Gulf of California. The Auk134(2), pp.308-316.

Climate change during the late Quaternary period (LQP) was a major driver in the shaping of species distributions and abundances. Understanding of the effects of climate change on population dynamics of marine species in temperate zones is growing. However, studies on the demographic history of seabirds are rare, and there is no description of how regional climate change has affected high-trophic-level marine species such as Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni). Authors of this study investigated whether the demographic history of Heermann's Gull reflects population change consistent with past changes in climate during the LQP. They also explored whether past changes affected the demographic history of codistributed marine organisms in a similar way. Results support a demographic expansion during the LQP for Heermann's Gulls. The authors discuss possible associations between the demographic expansion of this seabird species and large-scale ecological shifts or demographic expansions of other marine species.

Climate change prompts fish to change breeding behavior

Hovel, R. A., Carlson, S. M. and Quinn, T. P. (2016), Climate change alters the reproductive phenology and investment of a lacustrine fish, the three-spine stickleback. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13531

A study led by biologists from the University of Washington examined the impact of climate change on growth and reproduction of high-latitude freshwater fish. Specifically, the study analyzed the biological and physical factors affecting Alaska’s three-spined stickleback fish using five decades of time series data. Their findings showed that three-spined stickleback spawned earlier in years when ice breakup occurred earlier. In some cases, this also resulted in the fish producing more than one brood. Lead author, Rachel Hovel, commented that “climate change literature features many predictions and vulnerability assessments, but we don’t have many opportunities to actually observe species’ responses over time, as this is very data-intensive. Our ability to detect multiple breeding in fish is attributed to our comprehensive and high-quality long-term dataset.” The study is inconclusive on whether these findings indicate a positive or negative climate-induced impact for the three-spined stickleback. Regardless, the study has pinpointed a way by which climate change is affecting high-latitude ecosystems.

A new vulnerability assessment provides insights into where the effects of future ocean acidification will likely be greatest

Marshall, K. N., Kaplan, I. C., Hodgson, E. E., Hermann, A., Busch, D. S., McElhany, P., Essington, T. E., Harvey, C. J. and Fulton, E. A. (2017), Risks of ocean acidification in the California Current food web and fisheries: ecosystem model projections. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13594

A recent vulnerability assessment conducted on the the California Current, an upwelling system that already experiences inherently low pH conditions, suggests that  Dungeness crab fisheries, valued at about $220 million annually, may face a strong downturn over the next 50 years. Dungeness crabs will likely suffer from ocean acidification as their food sources decline. In contrast, pteropods and copepods, tiny marine organisms with shells that are vulnerable to acidification, will likely experience only a slight overall decline because they are prolific enough to offset much of the impact. Marine mammals and seabirds are less likely to be affected by ocean acidification, the study found.

Testing how species respond to climate change

Eleanor K. O'Brien, Megan Higgie, Alan Reynolds, Ary A. Hoffmann, Jon R. Bridle. Testing for local adaptation and evolutionary potential along altitudinal gradients in rainforest Drosophila: beyond laboratory estimates. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13553

A study recently published in Global Change Biology examined the adaptability of species to respond to climate change. Led by scientists from the University of Bristol, the research team tested the adaptability of the tropical rainforest fly, Drosophila birchii, by transplanting them in cages along mountain gradients that represent the species altitudinal limits and measuring their reproductive success. The study found that abundance was greater in cooler, high-altitude sites while species fitness was greater in warmer, low-altitude sites. There was no evidence of local adaptation as the team found very little genetic variation across gradients.

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Projections of 21st century climate of the Columbia River Basin

Rupp, D.E., Abatzoglou, J.T. & Mote, 2016. Projections of 21st century climate of the Columbia River Basin. P.W. Clim Dyn doi:10.1007/s00382-016-3418-7

Academic director of the Northwest Climate Science Center, Philip Mote, and climate scientists, David Rupp from Oregon State University and John Abatzoglou from Idaho State University, recently published a comprehensive report of 21st century climate projections for the Columbia River Basin. Using 35 global climate model (GCM) simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), the authors summarized projections of both temperature and precipitation changes in the Columbia River Basin. Mean annual temperature is projected to increase by 2.8 ℃ by the late 21st century with 18% more warming during summer. Projections for changes in precipitation were slightly less confident than those for temperature as not all GCMs agreed on the sign of change (positive or negative). The report, published in Climate Dynamics, additionally addressed questions regarding the seasonal and interannual variability of climate projections.

Climate change to shift global pattern of mild weather

Karin van der Wiel, Sarah B. Kapnick, Gabriel A. Vecchi. 2017. Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing. Climatic Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1885-9

A new study from Princeton University examined the impact of climate change on the global frequency of mild weather. Led by climate scientist Karin van der Wiel, the study found that the global annual number of mild days will decrease by 10-13% by the end of the century, which is equivalent to approximately 10 days. On the regional scale, the study concluded a more varied projection of mild day frequency change. Tropical regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America were projected to exhibit the largest decline in mild days, from 15-50 less days per year. Conversely, regions in the mid-latitudes such as parts of the United States, Canada, and northern Europe were projected to gain mild weather days.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

New NOAA report projects possible 8 feet of sea level rise by 2100

The Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Hazard Scenarios and Tools Interagency Task Force recently released a report updating global sea level rise projections. The authors report that new scientific literature points to an extreme upper-bound scenario of 2.5m of global mean sea level rise by 2100. This is an increase in 0.5m from the upper-bound scenario enlisted in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3), and is due to the incorporation of Greenland and Antarctica rapid ice melt. In addition to the updated global mean sea level rise projection, the report discussed regional factors that affect sea level rise along the United States coastline. They found that the Pacific Northwest is projected to exhibit lower sea level rise than the global mean. The technical report will contribute to the Task Force’s long-term effort to incorporate updated sea level rise and coastal flood hazard data into regionally appropriate scenarios to be utilized by individual agencies and local management.

Newly discovered phytoplankton groups appear to favor warmer oceans

Chang Jae Choi, Charles Bachy, Gualtiero Spiro Jaeger, Camille Poirier, Lisa Sudek, V.V.S.S. Sarma, Amala Mahadevan, Stephen J. Giovannoni and Alexandra Z. Worden. Newly discovered deep-branching marine plastid lineages are numerically rare but globally distributed. Current Biology, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.11.032

An international team of scientists published new research on the discovery of new phytoplankton groups. Published in Current Biology, the team found high abundance of the new group of phytoplankton species in warmer, low-nutrient surface waters. These desert-like waters included the Sargasso Sea, Bay of Bengal and the North Pacific Gyre and represent projected future conditions under climate change. The team discovered these new groups through continuous year-round sampling and the construction of the Baseline Initiative, a database of over 6,000 RNA gene sequences. The study emphasized the need to better understand these groups of phytoplanktons species in order to gain a clearer picture of marine ecosystems under increased warming.

Landmark global scale study reveals potential future impact of ocean acidification

Calosi, P., Melatunan, S., Turner, L.M., Artioli, Y., Davidson, R.L., Byrne, J.J., Viant, M.R., Widdicombe, S. and Rundle, S.D., 2017. Regional adaptation defines sensitivity to future ocean acidification. Nature Communications, 8, p.13994.

A team of scientists from Quebec and the United Kingdom analyzed metabolic behaviors in an intertidal snail (Littorina littorea) to better understand the impact of ocean acidification on a species with wide latitudinal range. The team collected snails from six different populations along the European coast that represented variation in water temperature (warm temperate, cold temperate and subpolar). They then placed the snails in a range of pH conditions and examined their metabolic responses. They found that snails from the limits of the species temperature range exhibited the most shell dissolution and metabolic change. The snails from cold temperate regions exhibited an increase in their metabolic rate which they used to maintain their growth and physiology to a better level than the other populations from the species’ range limits. The authors concluded by emphasizing the need to study multiple populations of the same species in order to build a comprehensive projection of species response to environmental forcings.

Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise

Kirsten Zickfeld, Susan Solomon, and Daniel M. Gilford. Centuries of thermal sea-level rise due to anthropogenic emissions of short-lived greenhouse gases. PNAS, January 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1612066114

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University recently published their findings on the effect of short-lived greenhouse gases on sea-level rise. Using an Earth’s Systems Model (EMIC), the study quantified global temperature and sea-level rise in response to various greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide (a long-lived greenhouse gas) were in line with previous studies, however the short-lived greenhouse gases, such as methane, exhibited a much longer impact on sea-level rise than formerly expected. They found that thermal expansion continues well after methane has cleared the atmosphere, and that this lag time only worsens the longer humans wait to reduce methane emissions. In order to test this, the study looked at the impacts of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere and simulated their lasting effects had we not reduced emissions. They found that sea-level rise would be 6 inches higher by 2050 had CFCs not been reduced.


Firefighting blamed for 'megafires' ravaging US forests

So-called "megafires" are becoming increasingly common and destructive in the wildlands of the western United States. Could overzealous firefighting itself be to blame? BBC North America Correspondent, James Cook, interviews firefighters, conservation directors, ranchers and Tom Tidwell, chief of the US Forest Service to investigate.


Tree-bark thickness indicates fire-resistance in a hotter future

Adam F. A. Pellegrini, William R. L. Anderegg, C. E. Timothy Paine, William A. Hoffmann, Tyler Kartzinel, Sam S. Rabin, Douglas Sheil, Augusto C. Franco, Stephen W. Pacala. Convergence of bark investment according to fire and climate structures ecosystem vulnerability to future change. Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12725

A study led by scientists from Princeton University found that trees residing in fire-prone regions develop thicker bark. The authors studied 572 tree species distributed globally and measured bark thickness along with wildfire frequency and rainfall levels for each region. They found a positive relationship between bark thickness and fire frequency, suggesting the fire-tolerance trait to be an evolutionary adaptation. The authors highlighted that trees living in regions of infrequent fires, such as tropical rainforests, may lack the ability to withstand burns, a probable consequence of increased drought in these regions due to further warming.

Land Use

Changing climate changes soils

Jonathan M. Gray, Thomas F.A. Bishop. Change in Soil Organic Carbon Stocks under 12 Climate Change Projections over New South Wales, Australia. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2016; 80 (5): 1296 DOI:10.2136/sssaj2016.02.0038

A new study from the University of Sydney offered a new, simpler method for identifying patterns in the change of soil properties caused by climate change. The research team used digital soil mapping techniques to map and quantify climate change-induced changes in soil organic carbon (SOC). Using downscaled global climate models, the researchers produced 12 projections that varied in magnitude and direction of SOC change. A majority of the projections showed a decline in SOC with climate change, while a few exhibited an increase. In terms of soil type, clay-rich soil showed the greatest reduction in SOC while sandy, low-fertility soil showed the smallest reduction. According to an article from Science Daily, the authors are now trying to use the same method to identify patterns in the change of soil properties such as pH, and nutrient abundance.

Harvests in US to suffer from climate change

Bernhard Schauberger, Sotirios Archontoulis, Almut Arneth, Juraj Balkovic, Philippe Ciais, Delphine Deryng, Joshua Elliott, Christian Folberth, Nikolay Khabarov, Christoph Müller, Thomas A. M. Pugh, Susanne Rolinski, Sibyll Schaphoff, Erwin Schmid, Xuhui Wang, Wolfram Schlenker, Katja Frieler. Consistent negative response of US crops to high temperatures in observations and crop models. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 13931 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS13931

An international team of scientists recently collaborated to construct a comprehensive report of US crop yield projection. Published in Nature Communications, the study found that maize and soybean yields will likely diminish by up to 6% for every day with over 30℃ temperatures. By 2100, the study projected losses of 20% for wheat, 40% for soybean, and nearly 50% for maize. In contrast, the authors found that declines were weak under conditions of full irrigation. This finding suggests that water stress induced by high temperatures is the primary driver of crop decline, a complexity in the process that was previously unknown. The study suggests that irrigation could be an adaptation pathway for regions with sufficient water availability.

Large extents of intensive land use limit community reorganization during climate warming

Oliver, T. H., Gillings, S., Pearce-Higgins, J. W., Brereton, T., Crick, H. Q. P., Duffield, S. J., Morecroft, M. D. and Roy, D. B. (2017), Large extents of intensive land use limit community reorganization during climate warming. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13587

A new study from the United Kingdom found that English birds communities have not reorganized successfully in response to climate change due to the existence of intensively managed land use around bird monitoring sites. The study, led by University of Reading scientists Tom Oliver, assessed three decades of community changes at over 600 English bird or butterfly monitoring sites across the U.K. Using the community temperature index (CTI) as an indicator of climate change impact, the researchers found that CTI increased for birds due to the loss of cold-associated species. Formerly, the CTI has been used to show that birds have been successfully adapting to warmer temperatures, however this study indicated that intensively managed land use may be limiting birds’ capacity to adapt. Specifically, the authors noted that land use appears to worsen declines in cold-associated species and prevent increases in warm-associated species.

Special Reports / Announcements

The U.S. Global Change Research Program wants to hear from you: Climate science special report

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) seeks public comment on the draft of its Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). This special report provides an update to the Third National Climate Assessment released in 2014. The draft CSSR provides updated climate science findings and projections, and is an important input to the authors of the next quadrennial NCA (NCA4), expected in 2018. Comments must be contributed through the USGCRP Review and Comment System. If you are interested in registering as an expert reviewer, please click here and log in using existing credentials or by establishing an account.

The deadline for comment is 3 February 2017. More information can be found on the Open Notices page.

The third Oregon Climate Assessment Report

Oregon State University scientists in the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) just released the Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report. They produced the report in response to House Bill 3543 passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2007 that, among other things, directs OCCRI to periodically "assess the state of climate change science, including biological, physical and social science, as it relates to Oregon and the likely effects of climate change on the state." Their latest assessment relies on recent published research to update previous work on climate change science and the impacts of climate disruption in Oregon, both as already seen and as projected to the mid- and late century. Key threats described include erosion and flooding on the coast; an increase in wildfires in the Cascade Range; and decreased snowpack in eastern Oregon, the last of which could portend hotter streams and rivers that could limit the range of fish species like salmon and trout. Special attention was devoted to the 2015 snow drought, which the authors call “a glimpse into Oregon's future.” In 2015, Oregon had its hottest year on record and winter precipitation, while near normal, often fell as rain instead of snow, resulting in record low snowpack across the state, and official drought declarations for 25 of Oregon's 36 counties.

Psychological 'vaccine' could help immunize public against 'fake news' on climate change, study suggests

Sander van der Linden, Anthony Leiserowitz, Seth Rosenthal, Edward Maibach. Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change. Global Challenges, 2017; 1600008 DOI: 10.1002/gch2.201600008

A new study from the University of Cambridge examined the psychological effect of misinformation on the public perception of climate change. The authors compared reactions to a well-known climate change fact with those to a popular misinformation campaign and found that the false material won out over the accurate information. The study then tested out a technique called “inoculation,” where they gave participants a small “dose” of the type of misinformation they may experience later on, and this seemed to serve as a preemptive protection against public gravitation toward misinformation.

Taking Action

A three-step decision support framework for climate adaptation: Selecting climate-informed conservation goals and strategies for native salmonids in the northern U.S. Rockies

This report presents a decision support framework aimed at helping managers of freshwater ecosystems in the northern Rockies think critically about how to apply climate information to their management decisions. The impact of climate change on cold-water ecosystems and their native salmonids is the subject of a substantial body of research. Recently, scientists have developed a number of datasets and analyses to help project climate change effects for native salmonid populations. Alongside this research, a number of management options have been identified by scientists and managers. These analyses and climate adaptation options offer valuable information about where and how to best conserve and restore the region’s native salmonids. Yet managers continue to identify challenges in applying available information on climate change impacts. Specifically, this framework is designed to help managers: 1) articulate an appropriate conservation goal for cold-adapted native salmonid populations taking into account the impacts of climate change on habitat suitability, threats from non-native fish, and connectivity; 2) consider the climate adaptation strategies that might best support that goal; and 3) identify actions that are available to implement the chosen strategies. This three-step decision framework is meant as a starting point to help managers document how they have incorporated information on climate change into their management decisions. The process used to develop the framework for native salmonids can be used to tailor decision support for additional conservation targets of interest.

Developing evaluation indicators to improve the process of coproducing usable climate science

Wall, T.U., Meadow, A.M. and Horganic, A., 2016. Developing Evaluation Indicators to Improve the Process of Co-producing Usable Climate Science. Weather, Climate, and Society, (2016).

Increasingly, resource managers and decision-makers are being asked to integrate climate change science into decisions about management and policy. This often requires climate scientists, resource managers, and decision-makers to collaborate at multiple points throughout the research process, an approach to knowledge development often called “knowledge coproduction.” The goal of this paper was to synthesize the social science theory of knowledge with metrics used to evaluate actionable science in federal agencies and insights from experienced climate researchers and program managers. This synthesis was used to develop a set of 45 indicators supporting an evaluation framework for coproduced climate science. This paper presents the proposed indicators along with results from two case studies that were used to test the indicators. Authors summarize lessons learned about the process of evaluating the coproduction of knowledge and collaboratively producing climate knowledge.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

The Importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) When Examining Climate Change

Dr. Samantha Chisholm Hatfield shares a personal account of her revelation about the importance of combining traditional ecological with western knowledge in a blog post for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In her words “Traditional Ecological Knowledge evolves from generations of experience; a base that is incomparable in terms of the depth, breadth, and holistic perspectives that it provides for a given ecosystem.” Along with the value of incorporating diverse ways of knowing into climate science, Dr. Hatfield also discusses some of the risks and emphasizes the importance of using the Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges (TKs) in Climate Change Initiatives.

Nisqually Tribe decides not to fish chum salmon in historic decision

For the first time ever, worries about population declines have led the Nisqually Tribe to close fishing for chum salmon this season. After several years of fish declines, they believe it's necessary to save the fish from disappearing completely. Nisqually Tribal member, Willie Frank III, son of famed environmental activist Billy Frank Jr., explains that his tribe’s connection to their environment and cultural traditions face historic challenge. In his words, "It was tough to explain to our elders and our tribal members that we're not going to be able to fish this year, because of the lack of salmon.” He adds, "We know it's not going to be one year. We know it's going to take five years. It might take a decade. We don't know, but we're willing to make the sacrifice. It's not about financial gain anymore, fishing for us. It's about teaching younger generations, seeing the smile of our elders being out on this river."

Participatory Geographic Information Systems as an organizational platform for the integration of traditional and scientific knowledge in contemporary fire and fuels management

McBride, B.B., Sanchez-Trigueros, F., Carver, S.J., Watson, A.E., Stumpff, L.M., Matt, R. and Borrie, W.T., 2017. Participatory Geographic Information Systems as an Organizational Platform for the Integration of Traditional and Scientific Knowledge in Contemporary Fire and Fuels Management. Journal of Forestry115(1), pp.43-50.

Indigenous people with ties to a landscape have traditional knowledge about fire and its effects that can augment western science to inform contemporary fire and fuels management strategies. This study evaluated Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) as one platform for assembling and communicating traditional knowledge vital to fire and fuels management, while preserving linkages to broader cultural contexts. PGIS can be used to integrate traditional and scientific knowledge systems with spatial environmental data in an interactive participatory process. The authors provide summaries of four case studies in the Intermountain West of North America that used PGIS tool in this context. They suggest that using PGIS to integrate knowledge may help bridge the communication gap that commonly exists between scientists, managers, and traditional knowledge holders.