NW Climate Science Digest

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

A GoogleMap Tool for InterAgency Coordination of Annual Stream Temperature Monitoring Sites

It had been 2 years since the Rocky Mountain Research Station last updated the online GoogleMap Tool for tracking stream sites across North America where annual temperature monitoring was currently occurring. The objective of the tool is to provide people from all agencies with a simple way to see where annual stream temperature monitoring is happening so that data sharing is facilitated and redundancy is minimized as new monitoring sites are established. You can see the map showing the updated set of sites by visiting the link below. Clicking on the map icons provides contact information for the local data stewards and information about the stream site. You can also display and filter information pertaining to different site attributes and the information can be saved in various formats like KMZ files for display in Google Earth.

Arid Ecosystems

Climate Change and Land Management Impact Rangeland Condition and Sage-Grouse Habitat in SE Oregon:

Megan K. Creutzburg, Emilie B. Henderson and David R. Conklin (2015) Climate change and land management impact rangeland condition and sage-grouse habitat in southeastern Oregon. AIMS Environmental Science 2(2): 203-236. http://bit.ly/1yQS9JF

Megan Creutzburg and Emilie Henderson of Oregon State University, and David Conklin of Common Futures LLC have a new publication in AIMS Environmental Science for their Northwest Climate Science Center-funded project, “Climate change and land management impact rangeland condition and sage-grouse habitat in southeastern Oregon.” Creutzburg and her collaborators modeled projected shifts in vegetation distributions and potential sage-grouse habitat across 23.5 million acres in southeastern Oregon. The team evaluated four climate scenarios and three management scenarios, including no management, current management, and a sage-grouse habitat restoration scenario. This work provides resource managers with information about potential impacts of climate change, disturbances, and management activities on rangeland species such as the greater sage-grouse. 

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Soil Nutrients may Limit Ability of Plants to Slow Climate Change:

William R. Wieder, Cory C. Cleveland, W. Kolby Smith, Katherine Todd-Brown. Future productivity and carbon storage limited by terrestrial nutrient availability. Nature Geoscience, 2015; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2413

Many scientists assume that the growing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will accelerate plant growth. However, a new study co-written by University of Montana researchers suggests much of this growth will be curtailed by limited soil nutrients. "If society stays on its current trajectory of CO2 emissions and the growth rates of plants don't increase as much as many models project, the result by the end of the century could be more extreme than we predicted," said Cory Cleveland, a UM associate professor of biogeochemistry.

The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Cleveland and former UM doctoral student Bill Smith did the research, along with partners at the University of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Study Finds Global Warming as Threat to 1 in 6 Species

Urban, M. 2015. Accelerating extinction risk from climate change. Science: 348(6234) pp. 571-573. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa4984

Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. Mark Urban from the University of Connecticut synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change–induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.

Elevation-Dependent Warming in Mountain Regions of the World

N. Pepin, R. S. Bradley, H. F. Diaz, M. Baraer, E. B. Caceres, N. Forsythe, H. Fowler, G. Greenwood, M. Z. Hashmi, X. D. Liu, J. R. Miller, L. Ning, A. Ohmura, E. Palazzi, I. Rangwala, W. Schöner, I. Severskiy, M. Shahgedanova, M. B. Wang, S. N. Williamson, D. Q. Yang. Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world. Nature Climate Change, 2015; 5 (5): 424 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2563

There is growing evidence that the rate of warming is amplified with elevation, such that high-mountain environments experience more rapid changes in temperature than environments at lower elevations. Elevation-dependent warming (EDW) can accelerate the rate of change in mountain ecosystems, cryospheric systems, hydrological regimes and biodiversity. Authors of the paper reviewed important mechanisms that contribute towards EDW: snow albedo and surface-based feedbacks; water vapor changes and latent heat release; surface water vapour and radiative flux changes; surface heat loss and temperature change; and aerosols. All lead to enhanced warming with elevation (or at a critical elevation), and it is believed that combinations of these mechanisms may account for contrasting regional patterns of EDW. The authors discuss future needs to increase knowledge of mountain temperature trends and their controlling mechanisms through improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and model simulations.

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

April Showers may Bring May Flowers, but Winter Snow is Water in the Bank

The type of precipitation falling from the sky matters, especially for delicate mountain ecosystems. It’s really all about snow – mountain ecosystems across the western United States are helped the most by precipitation in the form of snowfall. When snow falls on higher elevations it accumulates as snowpack and becomes a water “savings account” for lower elevation landscapes across the country for later in the year. While the east coast of the United States set records for snowfall this past winter, much of the western United States has entered into spring with substantially less mountain snowpack than previous years.  In fact, the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured in history, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through March 1 of this year, certain regions of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have mountain snowpack at less than 25 percent of average from 1981-2010.

March and 1st Quarter of 2015 were Warmest in 136 Years

According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for March 2015 was the highest for the month since record keeping began in 1880. The year-to-date (January-March) globally averaged temperature was also record high. This monthly summary from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, the business sector, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Northern Rock Sole Larvae Appear Resilient to Some Effects of Ocean Acidification

Hurst, T. P., Laurel, B. J., Mathis, J. T., and Tobosa, L. R. Effects of elevated CO2 levels on eggs and larvae of a North Pacific flatfish. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsv050.

A study done by NOAA Fisheries in collaboration with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center was published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science testing how newly hatched northern rock sole growth and development could respond to a more acidic ocean, an ocean with higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and lower pH. Reduced pH levels predicted for ocean acidification did not hamper growth and development of young northern rock sole. However, the authors caution that there are other potential impacts to northern rock sole that have yet to be examined as ocean acidification may alter the abundance of the tiny crustaceans that small rock sole feed upon. In addition, elevated CO2 levels have been shown to disrupt feeding and migration behaviors in other fish species

Climate Change Impacts on Wave and Surge Processes in a Pacific Northwest Estuary

Cheng, T. K., D. F. Hill, J. Beamer, and G. García-Medina (2015), Climate change impacts on wave and surge processes in a Pacific Northwest (USA) estuary, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120, 182–200, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2014JC010268.

Total water levels (TWLs) within estuaries are influenced by tides, wind, offshore waves, and streamflow, all of which are uniquely affected by climate change. The magnitude of TWL associated with various return periods is relevant to understanding how the hydrodynamics of a bay or estuary may evolve under distinct climate scenarios. The coupled Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) and Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN) model was used to simulate wave and water elevation conditions within Tillamook Bay, OR, USA for two long-term scenarios; 1979–1998 and 2041–2060. The model output provided multidecadal time series of TWLs for statistical analysis. Latitudinal and seasonal gradients were found in TWLs associated with varying return periods for both the hindcast and forecast. Changes in TWLs from hindcast to forecast included the sea level rise component and were also modulated by changes in boundary conditions.


A Year Round Fire Season?

There was a time when fire season for Western states meant only certain months out of the year. Not so long ago the U.S. Forest Service considered it primarily a summer problem with a few regions breaking the trend in early spring and late fall. But climate change, according to most wildland fire experts, has turned fire season into a year-round issue. What used to slow down fire season was winter—a long and cold time of year with lots of snow that killed off many invasive or destructive pests and filled rivers and reservoirs with ample water to supply the needs of millions living in the West. Now winter is shorter and has far less snow accumulation in many areas.

Vegetation, Topography and Daily Weather Influenced Burn Severity in Idaho and Montana Forests

Donovan S. Birch, Penelope Morgan, Crystal A. Kolden, John T. Abatzoglou, Gregory K. Dillon, Andrew T. Hudak, and Alistair M. S. Smith 2015. Vegetation, topography and daily weather influenced burn severity in central Idaho and western Montana forests. Ecosphere 6(1):17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES14-00213.1

Burn severity as inferred from satellite-derived differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) is useful for evaluating fire impacts on ecosystems but the environmental controls on burn severity across large forest fires are both poorly understood and likely to be different than those influencing fire extent. We related dNBR to environmental variables including vegetation, topography, fire danger indices, and daily weather for daily areas burned on 42 large forest fires in central Idaho and western Montana. We found that percent existing vegetation cover had the largest influence on burn severity, while weather variables like fine fuel moisture, relative humidity, and wind speed were also influential but somewhat less important. We posit that, in contrast to the strong influence of climate and weather on fire extent, ‘‘bottom-up’’ factors such as topography and vegetation have the most influence on burn severity. While climate and weather certainly interact with the landscape to affect burn severity, pre-fire vegetation conditions due to prior disturbance and management strongly affect vegetation response even when large areas burn quickly.

Greater Risk of Wildfires in Washington because of Drought and Climate Change

Warmer and drier summer conditions mean increased wildfire risk is projected for 2015, and climate change modeling indicates these conditions are likely to become the norm in the decades ahead. Weather models from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center show another hot and dry summer is forecast for Washington this year. And, climate scientists expect the area burned by fire each year to double in the Northwest by the 2040s. This not only puts Washington’s forestland at risk but air quality as well.

Special Reports / Announcements

Governor Inslee Expands Drought Emergency to include more of Washington

Worsening drought and snowpack conditions in Washington prompted Gov. Inslee to expand the state’s drought emergency today. Nearly half the state is now expected to experience hardships from this year’s drought. With more snow lost than added over the past month, runoff from snowmelt this summer is projected to be the lowest on record in 64 years. Snowmelt feeds rivers and streams, and in turn provides critical water supply for farms and fish. “This is an ongoing emergency and we’re going to have some long, hard months ahead of us,” said Gov. Inslee. “We’re moving quickly so that we’re prepared to provide relief to farms and fish this summer.”Worsening drought and snowpack conditions in Washington prompted Gov. Inslee to expand the state’s drought emergency today. Nearly half the state is now expected to experience hardships from this year’s drought. With more snow lost than added over the past month, runoff from snowmelt this summer is projected to be the lowest on record in 64 years. Snowmelt feeds rivers and streams, and in turn provides critical water supply for farms and fish. “This is an ongoing emergency and we’re going to have some long, hard months ahead of us,” said Gov. Inslee. “We’re moving quickly so that we’re prepared to provide relief to farms and fish this summer.” 

Montana State NorWeST Stream Temperature, Climate Scenarios & Final Databases Online

The temperature database and climate scenarios for 72,465 stream km encompassing western Montana are now available on the NorWeST website. The data to develop the stream scenarios were collected by dozens of individuals and contributed by 15 state, Tribal, federal, university, and private resource organizations. 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, and research on thermal ecology. 

U.S.F.S. Releases Interactive Education Module on Climate Change Effects

The Climate Change Resource Center has released a new interactive online education module on climate change effects: "Climate Change Effects on Forests and Grasslands: What You Need to Know." It is the second in a series of three education modules. It gives a brief overview of current and projected climate change effects on water resources, vegetation, wildlife, and disturbances, specifically geared towards forest and grassland ecosystems. The first module, "Climate Change Science and Modeling," provides an introduction to the climate system, greenhouse gases, climate models, current climate change impacts, and future projections.

New NOAA Maps & Data Section Offers Easy-to-Understand Maps and Entry-Level Information on Climate Data

People who are interested in climate have a new source of maps and data on climate.gov. The recently updated Maps & Data section offers easy-to-understand climate maps, a visual catalog of popular climate products, and instructional pages that cover the fundamentals of measuring climate variables and processing and using climate data.

2015 NW CSC Climate Boot Camp

his year’s camp is hosted by the University of Washington and will run from August 16th – 21st at Pack Forest Conference Center in Eatonville, WA.  The curriculum for this year’s camp will delve into Adaptation on the Wildland-Urban Interface. The extended application deadline is May 13, 2015 and applications will be reviewed on a competitive basis for a limited number of slots. For more information visit the website or, contact Arwen Bird, CBC Coordinator (email: birda@uw.edu, phone: 503.318.5104).

Taking Action

EPA & Federal Partners Announce Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative to Prepare Natural Resources for Climate Change

EPA, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior and NOAA, has recognized four collaborative landscape partnerships across the country where federal agencies will focus efforts with partners to conserve and restore important lands and waters and make them more resilient to a changing climate. Building on existing collaborations, the Resilient Lands and Waters partnerships located in southwest Florida, Hawaii, Washington, and the Great Lakes region will help build resilience in regions vulnerable to climate change and related challenges. They will also showcase the benefits of landscape-scale management approaches and help enhance the carbon storage capacity of these natural areas.

EPA National Water Program Releases 2014 Highlights of Progress: Responses to Climate Change

EPA's National Water Program has released a 2014 Highlights of Progress Report that provides a summary of major accomplishments addressing climate change and water by the EPA National Water Program and Regional water programs during 2014. In addition, major research projects addressing climate change and water that were completed in 2014 by the EPA Office of Research and Development are also described. The Report is organized around the six long-term programmatic areas identified in the "National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change," water infrastructure; watersheds and wetlands; coastal and ocean waters; water quality; working with Tribes; and cross-cutting support.

Climate Change Adaptation in United States Federal Natural Resource Science and Management Agencies

Halofsky, J.E., D.L. Peterson, and K.W. Marcinkowski. 2015. Climate change adaptation in United States federal natural resource science and management agencies: a synthesis. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC. Available at http://www.globalchange.gov/browse/reports/climate-change-adaptation-united-states-federal-natural-resource-science-and.

A new publication from Halofsky, Peterson, and Marcinkowski discusses actions taken by federal agencies to address climate change. Federal agencies with responsibility for natural resource management are mandated to consider climate change in planning and projects, and to begin preparing for the effects of climate change. Federal agencies are making significant progress in climate change adaptation, although lack of financial resources has slowed implementation of climate-focused activities. Currently, most agencies have broad-scale strategic plans that describe approaches and priorities for climate change in general and for adaptation in particular. Mainstreaming of climate-smart practices in agencies has been slow to develop, probably because it has not been required at local to regional scales and because systems of accountability are rare. Progress can be accelerated through increased cooperation between management-based and science-based agencies and through collaboration with other organizations in the public and private sectors.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

Pressing Play to Learn how Climate Change can Impact Indigenous Cultures

As scientists and activists look for new ways to explain and spur action on climate change, games are becoming a new avenue, reaching new audiences as well as giving users a first-hand feel of the risks of climate change – and some of the solutions. "Games are super unique in that they require reflexes and intellect, because it's a very active medium," said Sean Vesce, creative director for E-Line Media in Seattle that launched "Kisima Ingitchuna" with Cook Inlet Tribal Council in late 2014. "They can be fun and at the same time you can be learning and not have it feel like a chore." The game was created in collaboration with nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members and was based on a tale from the Inuit Inupiaq people about the adventures of a boy who goes to save his community from a deadly blizzard:

Changes in Climate, Watershed Forcing Sauk-Suiattle Tribe to Move Farther Upland

More than a century of change on the Sauk River—glacial retreat, logging in the watershed, and alterations downstream—is forcing the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe to move homes, administrative offices, and a longhouse farther upland and away from the river. “The tribe currently has no defenses to stop the river from migrating into residential housing and tribal offices,” concludes a 64-page flood and erosion risk assessment by Natural Systems Design, a Seattle-based environmental planning firm. “Because of the warming climate, [river migration] is much more likely and poses an unacceptable level of risk to the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe over the next several decades. Severe and irretrievable damages, and possible loss of life, are an inevitable consequence of failing to move residents and facilities out of their current location.” Jason Joseph, Sauk-Suiattle’s natural resources director, said the tribe has purchased 40 acres it wants to have placed into trust and is working with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to gain access across a DNR easement. Then, the tribe will locate funding for installation of infrastructure and for construction.

Climate Change: Mankind Must Stop Destroying ‘Our Own Mystical Place’

Plants were blooming in the middle of winter near the Cascade Mountain Range; the Iditarod had to be moved almost 300 miles from Willows to Fairbanks due to lack of snow for the mushers; and California could run out of water in a year. These are drastic indications that things are amiss, said American Indian leaders meeting in Portland, Oregon earlier this month. To them it was obvious that climate change is already here and that collaboration is necessary in order for tribes to survive and thrive. They gathered, spoke and strategized at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Tribal Leaders Summit on Climate Change on March 10 and 11 in Portland, Oregon. Sponsored by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University and the Department of Interior-Northwest Climate Science Center, the conference brought together Tribal, federal, regional and state agencies and leaders to discuss the climate change crisis facing our world. Tribes from all over the northwest, including Idaho, Montana and Alaska, were represented and shared their concerns, and the theme that emerged was one of unity