NW Climate Science Digest

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

Glaciers rapidly shrinking and disappearing: 50 years of glacier change in Montana

U.S. Geological Survey. "Glaciers rapidly shrinking and disappearing: 50 years of glacier change in Montana." ScienceDaily, 10 May 2017. 

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reveals the dramatically reduced sizes of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, with some decreasing by as much as 85 percent. Researchers from the USGS and Portland State University reported that, on average, glaciers in Montana have been reduced by 39 percent, and only 26 of them are still large enough to be considered glaciers. In addition to ecological effects on aquatic species with consequent changes in water volume, temperature and run-off, this glacial decline could also have large impacts on Montana’s tourism industry. This data is part of a larger, ongoing USGS study of glaciers in Montana, Alaska and Washington, which seeks to help scientists understand how climate patterns impact glaciers in different mountain environments.

Effects of climate change on snowpack and fire potential in the western U.S.

Gergel, D.R., Nijssen, B., Abatzoglou, J.T. et al. 2017. Effects of climate change on snowpack and fire potential in the western USA. Climatic Change 141: 287. doi:10.1007/s10584-017-1899-y

Researchers evaluated the implications of ten twenty-first century climate scenarios for snow, soil moisture, and fuel moisture across the conterminous western U.S. using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrology model. A decline in mountain snowpack, an advance in the timing of spring melt, and a reduction in snow season were projected for five mountain ranges in the region. For the southernmost range (the White Mountains), spring snow at most elevations is projected to disappear by the end of the twenty-first century. The accelerated depletion of mountain snowpack due to warming will likely lead to reduced summer soil moisture across mountain environments. Similarly, warmer and drier summers will likely lead to decreases of up to 25% in dead fuel moisture across all mountain ranges. Collective declines in spring mountain snowpack, summer soil moisture, and fuel moisture across western mountain ranges will increase fire potential in flammability-limited forested systems where fuels are not limiting. Projected changes in fire potential in predominately fuel-limited systems at lower elevations were more uncertain.

Depletion and response of deep groundwater to climate-induced pumping variability

Russo, T.A. & Lall, U. 2017. Depletion and response of deep groundwater to climate-induced pumping variability Nature Geoscience 10, 105–108. doi:10.1038/ngeo2883

Widespread groundwater level declines have occurred in the U.S. over recent decades, even in regions not typically considered water stressed, such as areas of the Northwest. This loss of water storage reflects extraction rates that exceed natural recharge and capture. In this article the authors explore recent changes in the groundwater levels of deep aquifers from wells across the U.S., and their relation to indices of climate variability and annual precipitation. They found that groundwater level changes corresponded to selected global climate variations. Although climate-induced variations of deep aquifer natural recharge are thought to have multi-year time lags, they found that deep groundwater levels respond to climate over timescales of less than one year. In irrigated areas, the annual response to local precipitation in the deepest wells may reflect climate-induced pumping variability. Understanding how the human response to drought leads to deep groundwater changes is critical for managing the impacts of climate variability on the nation’s water resources.

Saying goodbye to glaciers

Moon, T. 2017. Saying goodbye to glaciers. Science, 356 (6338): 580 DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9625

In this Perspectives piece from the journal Science, Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, writes about today’s massive decline in the world’s glaciers. She describes how glacial loss causes sea level rise, which will displace millions of people within the lifetime of many of today’s children. From providing freshwater to communities to impacting global weather and climate systems, glaciers play an important role on earth. Moon writes about how the focus of her glacial research has changed over the years to integrate the impacts of climate change, and she calls for continued diligence from the scientific community.

Future projections of streamflow magnitude and timing differ across coastal watersheds of the western U.S.

Burke, W. D. and Ficklin, D. L. (2017), Future projections of streamflow magnitude and timing differ across coastal watersheds of the western United States. Int. J. Climatol. doi:10.1002/joc.5099

While streamflow timing of western U.S. watersheds has shifted earlier in mountainous snow-dominated watersheds due to earlier snowmelt, timing for rain-dominated coastal watersheds has shifted to later in the year. Despite these dissimilarities, coastal watersheds have received little attention in the literature. This research assessed changes in projected climate and hydrology for five small coastal basins in Washington, Oregon, and California. Projections of temperature and precipitation were coupled with the Soil and Water Assessment Tool hydrologic model to simulate future hydrology for each watershed. The response of climate, streamflow discharge, and timing was analyzed for each watershed by comparing the projected mid-21st century and late-21st century to the historical period. While temperature is projected to increase at each watershed from 1 to 6°C by the end of the 21st century, precipitation varies widely with the median and mean change across all watersheds and GCMs being close to zero. Changes in the magnitude of peak winter streamflow discharge differ across the region compared to the historical period. The projected decreases in peak winter streamflow magnitude have critical implications for water supply, which is already strained from extensive drought and high demand.

Climate-related changes of soil characteristics affect bacterial community composition and function of high altitude and latitude lakes

Rofner, C., Peter, H., Catalán, N., Drewes, F., Sommaruga, R. and Pérez, M. T. (2017), Climate-related changes of soil characteristics affect bacterial community composition and function of high altitude and latitude lakes. Global Change Biology, 23: 2331–2344. doi:10.1111/gcb.13545

Climate change is driving vegetation range shifts in high altitude and latitude regions that will ultimately alter the distribution of soil organic matter. Once mobilized, this organic matter may rapidly alter the composition and function of lake bacterial communities. In this study researchers experimentally simulated potential climate-change effects on lake organic matter by exposing bacterioplankton of two lakes above treeline (one subarctic and one alpine) to soil organic matter. They then tracked changes in bacterial community composition, diversity and function for 72 h. In a subarctic lake, soil organic matter reduced bulk and taxon-specific phosphorus uptake. These effects were less pronounced in an alpine lake, suggesting that soil properties and water temperature shaped the magnitude of response. The rapid bacterial succession observed in both lakes indicates that certain taxa directly benefited from soil sources. This work suggests that climate-induced changes in soil characteristics affect bacterioplankton community structure and function, and in turn, the cycling of carbon and phosphorus in high altitude and latitude aquatic ecosystems.

Arid Ecosystems

Climate warming alters fuels across elevational gradients in Great Basin bristlecone pine-dominated sky island forests

Gray, C.A. and Jenkins, M.J., 2017. Climate warming alters fuels across elevational gradients in Great Basin bristlecone pine-dominated sky island forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 392, pp.125-136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2017.03.004

Scientists from Utah State University examined the effects of climate-induced changes to fuel loading, fire hazard and risk on changes in fire behavior and severity in Great Basin bristlecone pine communities. Using Forest Inventory Analysis plot variables, researchers collected data in field transects on six mountains in the western U.S. Their results suggest that fine woody fuels decreased with elevation, and surface and canopy fuels at different elevations changed with increases in elevation. Authors note that these results, combined with lower canopy base height and foliar moisture and increasing temperatures due to climate change, increases fire potential at the Great Basin bristlecone pine treeline, threatening the oldest individuals of this iconic species. 

Persistence of greater sage-grouse in agricultural landscapes

Shirk, A.J., Schroeder, M.A., Robb, L.A. and Cushman, S.A., 2017. Persistence of greater sage‐grouse in agricultural landscapes. The Journal of Wildlife Management. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21268

A team of researchers used species distribution modeling to quantify environmental variables constraining a threatened sage-grouse population inhabiting an agricultural landscape in Washington. Fields planted to perennial vegetation as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were important in providing year-round habitat for sage-grouse, but only when intermixed with native sagebrush-steppe vegetation. Without the CRP, researchers estimated 66% of sage-grouse habitat in the study area would become unsuitable. This study demonstrates how conservation programs such as CRP may be used as a management tool to reduce the risk of extirpation in agricultural areas, and to facilitate species range shifts in response to climatic changes in the sagebrush biome.

Biodiversity/Species and Ecosystem Response

Biodiversity modeling and network analysis illustrate the importance of habitat connectivity

Thompson, P.L. & A. Gonzalez. 2017. Dispersal governs the reorganization of ecological networks under environmental change. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1: 0162 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0162

This article outlines recent research about the importance of keeping habitats connected, particularly in the face of environmental change. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and McGill University worked together to integrate biodiversity modeling and network analysis to better understand how complex ecological networks may reorganize in the future. One key finding was that, if habitats remain connected, species will have more opportunity to move in response to environmental change, which facilitates ecosystem resilience. In their models, researchers found that this movement not only prevented extinction, but also allowed complex networks to maintain their structure. This research took a unique approach by analyzing the ‘wiring’ of ecological webs and how those connections may change in the future.

Global warming kills gut bacteria in lizards

Bestion, E.; S. Jacob; L. Zinger; L. Di Gesu; M. Richard; J. White; & Julien Cote. 2017. Climate warming reduces gut microbiota diversity in a vertebrate ectotherm. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1: 0161 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0161

This article reports the results of a study suggesting that climate change may threaten reptiles by reducing the number of bacteria in their guts. Researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Toulouse teamed up to determine how increased temperatures affected microorganism diversity in the guts of common lizards. When subjected to warming of 2-3°C, lizard’s microorganism gut diversity decreased substantially, which researchers also found affected their survival. Bacteria play a crucial role in digestion, and in the context of climate change, researchers highlighted that this decreased diversity could have major impacts on lizards and other cold-blooded animals in the future.

Climate and Weather Reports and Services

Measuring the human impact of weather

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently announced world records for the highest reported historic death tolls from tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms. This announcement marks the first time the official WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has broadened its scope from strictly temperature and weather records to address the impacts of specific events. The in-depth investigation into documented mortality records for these five specific weather-related events was conducted by an international WMO committee of 19 experts. The highest mortality associated with a weather event was the estimated 300,000 people that were killed as result of the passage of a tropical cyclone through Bangladesh (at time of incident, East Pakistan) on Nov. 12-13, 1970. 

NOAA releases database of climate science providers for the Western U.S.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its “Climate Services Provider Database,” providing a comprehensive directory of climate service providers in the Western United States. The database can be searched for the type of information or service, such as workshops, decision support tools, vulnerability assessments, or training and education. The site can also be searched by geographic area or sector to find providers that serve that area. This database was created through a partnership between NOAA Western Region Collaboration Team, the NOAA-RISA Western Water Assessment, and the NOAA-RISA Climate Assessment for the Southwest. The database is in pilot form. It is intended to catalog climate service providers in NOAA's Western Region (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, and WY).

Climate change related changes in extreme rainfall will vary among regions

S. Pfahl, P. A. O’Gorman, E. M. Fischer. 2017. Understanding the regional pattern of projected future changes in extreme precipitation. Nature Climate Change (7) 423–427. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3287

A recent study by researchers from MIT and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich showed that extreme rain events in most regions of the world are likely to increase in intensity by 3 to 15 percent, for every degree Celsius that the planet warms. If global average temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years, as many climate models predict given relatively high CO2 emissions, much of North America and Europe would experience increases in the intensity of extreme rainfall of roughly 25 percent. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that variation in the change in extreme precipitation from region to region can be explained by different changes in the strength of local wind patterns. As a region warms due to human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide, winds loft that warm, moisture-laden air up through the atmosphere, where it condenses and rains back down to the surface. But changes in strength of the local winds also influence the intensity of a region's most extreme rainstorms. The authors argue that being able to predict the severity of the strongest rain events, on a region-by-region basis, could help local planners prepare for potentially more devastating storms.

Coastal/Marine Ecosystems, Ocean Acidification, Sea Level Rise

Decades of data on world’s oceans reveal a troubling oxygen decline

Ito, T.; S. Minobe; M.C. Long; & C. Deutsch. 2017. Upper Ocean O2 trends: 1958-2015. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(9): 4214–4223 DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073613

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology looked at more than 50 years of ocean data and found that oxygen levels began dropping in the 1980s as ocean temperatures began to climb. Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide, and, in recent years, have led to more frequent "hypoxic events" that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and other organisms. Researchers anticipated that rising water temperatures would affect the amount of oxygen in the oceans, since warmer water is capable of holding less dissolved gas than colder water. But this study showed that ocean oxygen was falling more rapidly than the corresponding rise in water temperature. Results were published in the April issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The research team included researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Washington-Seattle, and Hokkaido University in Japan.

Doubling of coastal flooding frequency within decades due to sea-level rise

Vitousek, S.; P.L. Barnard; C.H. Fletcher; N. Frazer; L. Erikson & C.D. Storlazzi. 2107.  Doubling of coastal flooding frequency within decades due to sea-level rise. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 1399 doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01362-7  Published online: 18 May 2017

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, sea level rise is projected to increase, which will also increase the frequency of coastal flooding. A team of researchers used extreme value theory to combine sea-level projections with wave, tide and storm surge models to estimate increases in coastal flooding on a global scale. They found that places that had little variability in water level (mainly in the tropics) will likely have the largest increases in flooding frequency. The 10 to 20 cm of sea-level rise projected by 2050 will more than double the frequency of extreme water-level events in the tropics, hindering the developing economies of equatorial coastal cities and the livability of low-lying Pacific island nations.

Rising water temperatures endanger health of coastal ecosystems

Schaefer, S.C. & J.T. Hollibaugh. 2017. Temperature Decouples Ammonium and Nitrite Oxidation in Coastal Waters. Environmental Science & Technology, 51 (6): 3157 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03483

Increasing water temperatures are causing the accumulation of nitrite in marine environments throughout the world, according to new research from the University of Georgia. Too much nitrite can alter the kinds and amounts of single-celled plants living in marine environments, potentially affecting the animals that feed on them. It can also lead to toxic algal blooms and create dead zones where no fish or animals can live. Lead author, James Hollibaugh, and researcher, Sylvia Schaefer, found peak concentrations of nitrite alongside massive increases in numbers of the microorganisms that produce it in the coastal waters off Sapelo Island, Georgia, in data collected over the course of eight years. Although most researchers believe nitrite accumulation is a consequence of oxygen deficiency in a marine environment, Hollibaugh and Schaefer thought something else had to be driving the accumulation. After performing lab experiments that exposed single-celled organisms to varying water temperatures, the researchers discovered that higher temperatures prompted the microorganisms to produce more nitrite. To test whether a similar pattern could be seen in the field, Schaefer and Hollibaugh analyzed data from 270 locations across the U.S., France and Bermuda, ultimately affirming the relationship between higher temperatures and nitrite accumulation. Their study was recently published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Macroscale patterns in body size of intertidal crustaceans provide insights on climate change effects

Jaramillo, E.; Dugan, J.E.; Hubbard, D.M.; Contreras, H.; Duarte, C.; Acuña, E. & Schoeman, D.S. 2017. Macroscale patterns in body size of intertidal crustaceans provide insights on climate change effects. PloS one, 12(5), p.e0177116. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0177116

A team of scientists analyzed the body size of the crustaceans that comprise the majority of intertidal abundance and biomass on sandy beach ecosystems of the Pacific coasts of Chile and California. Because climate change-induced changes in sea surface temperatures scales strongly with growth and fecundity for many ectotherms, researchers analyzed the contemporary macroscale patterns in body size of these crustaceans. They found that sea surface temperature was a strong predictor of body size in all species, and that beach characteristics were subsidiary predictors. They note that, because of the consistency of results for body size and temperature across species with such different life histories, this research suggests that predictions of ecosystem responses to changes in temperature may potentially be generalized, which has important implications for coastal conservation.


Improving forest sampling strategies for assessment of fuel reduction burning

Gharun, M.; Possell M.; Jenkins, M.E.; Poon, L.F.; Bell, T.L. & Adams, M.A.  2017. Improving forest sampling strategies for assessment of fuel reduction burning. Forest Ecology and Management 392, 78–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2017.03.001

Land managers typically make post hoc assessments of the effectiveness of fuel reduction burning (FRB), but often lack a rigorous sampling framework. A general, but untested, assumption is that variability in soil and fuel properties increases from small (∼1 m) to large spatial scales (∼10–100 km). The authors of this study found that measurement variability does not increase with scale for all fuel components. They also found support for the hypothesis that site stratification could reduce variability between sampling plots and the required number of sampling plots, leading to cost savings. They conclude with recommendations on how sampling schemes can be improved for assessment of fuel reduction burning.

Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes

Schoennagel, T.; J. K. Balch; H. Brenkert-Smith; P.E. Dennison; B.J. Harvey; M.A. Krawchuk; N. Mietkiewicz; P. Morgan: M.A. Moritz; R. Rasker; M.G. Turner; and C. Whitlock. 2017. Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes. PNAS 114: 4582-4590

Wildfires across western North America have increased in number and size over the past three decades, and this trend will continue in response to further warming. As a consequence, the wildland–urban interface is projected to experience substantial increases in the risk of climate-driven fires in the coming decades. The authors of this paper propose a management approach that accepts wildfire as an inevitable catalyst of change and that promotes adaptive responses by ecosystems and residential communities to more warming and wildfire. Current policy and management focus primarily on fire suppression and fuels management. These strategies are inadequate to address a new era of western wildfires. In contrast, the authors argue for policies that promote adaptive resilience to wildfire, by which people and ecosystems adjust and reorganize in response to changing fire regimes to reduce future vulnerability. Key aspects of the adaptive resilience approach that they recommend are (i) recognizing that fuels reduction cannot alter regional wildfire trends; (ii) targeting fuels reduction to increase adaptation by some ecosystems and residential communities to more frequent fire; (iii) actively managing more wild and prescribed fires with a range of severities; and (iv) incentivizing and planning residential development to withstand inevitable wildfire. These strategies would represent a shift in policy and management from restoring ecosystems based on historical baselines to adapting to changing fire regimes and from unsustainable defense of the wildland–urban interface to developing fire-adapted communities. 

The normal fire environment—Modeling environmental suitability for large forest wildfires using past, present, and future climate normals

Davis, R, Yang, Z, Yost, A, Belongie, C & Cohen, W. 2017. The normal fire environment—Modeling environmental suitability for large forest wildfires using past, present, and future climate normals. Forest Ecology & Management (390) 173-186. 10.1016/j.foreco.2017.01.027

Researchers modeled the normal fire environment for occurrence of large forest wildfires for the Pacific Northwest Region of the United States. Large forest wildfire occurrence data from the recent climate normal period (1971–2000) was used as the response variable and fire season precipitation, maximum temperature, slope, and elevation were used as predictor variables. Researchers used downscaled climate projections for two greenhouse gas concentration scenarios and over 30 climate models to project changes in environmental suitability for large forest fires over the 21st century. Results indicated an increasing proportion of forested area with fire environments more suitable for the occurrence of large wildfires over the next century for all ecoregions, but less pronounced for the Coast Range and Puget Lowlands. The largest increases occurred on federal lands. By the end of the century, the models predicted shorter fire rotation periods, with cooler/moister forests experiencing larger magnitudes of change than warmer/drier forests. Modeling products, including a set of time series maps, can provide forest resource managers, fire protection agencies, and policy-makers empirical estimates of how much and where climate change might affect the geographic distribution of large wildfires and fire rotations.

An evaluation of the Forest Service Hazardous Fuels Treatment Program—Are we treating enough to promote resiliency or reduce hazard?

Vaillant, N.M. and Reinhardt, E.D. 2017. An Evaluation of the Forest Service Hazardous Fuels Treatment Program—Are We Treating Enough to Promote Resiliency or Reduce Hazard? Journal of Forestry 115: 83-97. DOI: 10.5849/jof.16-067

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy recognizes that wildfire is a necessary natural process in many ecosystems, and strives to reduce conflicts between fire-prone landscapes and people. In an effort to proactively mitigate potential negative wildfire impacts, the U.S. Forest Service reduces wildland fuels. As part of an internal program assessment, the authors of this study evaluated the extent of fuel treatments and wildfire occurrence within lands managed by the National Forest System (NFS) between 2008 and 2012. They found that, annually, 45% of NFS lands that would have historically burned were disturbed by fuel treatments and wildfire, indicating that NFS lands remain in a “disturbance deficit.” They also found that the highest wildfire hazard class had the lowest percentage of area treated and the highest proportion of both wildfire of any severity and uncharacteristically high-severity wildfire, suggesting that an alternative distribution of fuel treatment locations would likely improve program effectiveness.

Diversity in forest management to reduce wildfire losses: implications for resilience

Charnley, S., T. A. Spies, A. M.G. Barros, E. M. White, and K. A. Olsen. 2017. Diversity in forest management to reduce wildfire losses: implications for resilience. Ecology and Society 22(1):22. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08753-220122

This study investigated how federal, state, and private forest owners in a fire-prone landscape of south-central Oregon manage their forests to reduce wildfire hazard and loss to high-severity wildfire. The authors evaluated the implications of their findings for insights into social–ecological resilience. They found a high degree of "response diversity" (variation in forest management decisions and behaviors) between and within groups. This response diversity contributed to heterogeneous forest conditions across the landscape. Modeling results indicated that, in general, U.S. Forest Service management had the most favorable outcomes for forest resilience to wildfire, and private corporate management the least. Heterogeneity in social–ecological systems is often thought to favor social–ecological resilience. However, this study found that, despite high social and ecological heterogeneity, most forest ownerships do not exhibit characteristics that make them resilient to high-severity fire. The coupled human and natural systems approach used here gave insights into connections among the social, economic, and ecological components of a multi-ownership, fire-prone ecosystem, and helped identify interventions to improve social–ecological resilience to wildfire. 


Assessing vulnerabilities and adapting to climate change in northwestern U.S. forests

Halofsky, J.E., Peterson, D.L. & Prendeville, H.R. In press. Assessing vulnerabilities and adapting to climate change in Northwestern U.S. forests. Climatic Change. doi:10.1007/s10584-017-1972-6

Multiple climate change vulnerability assessments in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. provide the scientific information needed to begin adaptation in forested landscapes. Adaptation options developed by resource managers in conjunction with these assessments, newly summarized in the Climate Change Adaptation Library of the Western United States, provide an extensive choice of peer-reviewed, climate-smart management strategies and tactics. More adaptation options are available for vegetation than for any other resource category, allowing vegetation management to be applied across a range of spatial and temporal scales. Good progress has been made in strategic development and planning for climate change adaptation in the Northwest, although on-the-ground implementation is in the early stages. However, recent regulatory mandates plus the increasing occurrence of extreme events (drought, wildfires, insect outbreaks) provide motivation to accelerate the adaptation process in planning and management on federal lands and beyond. Timely implementation of adaptation and collaboration across boundaries will help ensure the functionality of Northwest forests at broad spatial scales in a warmer climate. This article was part of a Special Issue on ‘Vulnerability Assessment of U.S. Agriculture and Forests developed by the USDA Climate Hubs.

Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world

Ellison, D.;  C.E. Morris; B. Locatelli; et al. 2017. Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world. Global Environmental Change 392, 78–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.01.002

This review examines the ways in which forest, water and energy interactions provide the foundations for carbon storage, for cooling terrestrial surfaces and for distributing water resources. The authors argue that forests and trees act as prime regulators within the water, energy and carbon cycles, and that recognizing these functions will help planners assess, adapt to and/or mitigate the impacts of changing land cover and climate. They call for a paradigm switch, from a carbon-centric model to one that treats the hydrologic and climate-cooling effects of trees and forests as the first order of priority. They write “Our understanding of how trees and forests influence water, energy and carbon cycles has important implications, both for the structure of planning, management and governance institutions, as well as for how trees and forests might be used to improve sustainability, adaptation and mitigation efforts.”

Integrating science and management to assess forest ecosystem vulnerability to climate change

Brandt, L.A.; Butler, P.R.; Handler, S.D.; Janowiak, M.K.; Shannon, P.D.; Swanston, C.W. 2017. Integrating Science and Management to Assess Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability to Climate Change. Journal of Forestry.  115 (3) 212-221. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5849/jof.15-147

The authors of this study developed an ecosystem vulnerability assessment approach (EVAA) to help inform potential adaptation actions in response to a changing climate. Their EVAA combines models and expertise from scientists and land managers. Using this EVAA, researchers found that the vulnerability of individual forest types to climate change varied by region due to regional differences in how climate change is expected to affect system drivers, stressors, and dominant species and the capacity of a forest community to adapt. The authors claim that this assessment process is a straightforward and flexible approach to addressing the key components of vulnerability in a collaborative setting, and can easily be applied to a range of forest ecosystems at local to regional scales. Forest managers may be able to use this vulnerability assessment to better understand which species and ecosystems may be at greatest risk in a changing climate.

Climate Change Is Causing US Tree Population To Shift

Fei, S.; J.M. Desprez; K.M. Potter; I. Jo; J.A. Knott & C.M. Oswalt. 2017. Divergence of species responses to climate change. Science Advances, 3(5) 2375-2548. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1603055

A recent paper in Science Advances presents results of an analysis conducted of the movement of 86 tree types using U.S. Forest Service data from 1980 to 1995 and 2013 to 2015. The authors found that more trees were moving west rather than north as predicted. Roughly 34 percent of the tree species moved toward the North Pole in the last 30 years at a pace of around 6.8 miles per decade. By comparison, 47 percent of the trees undertook a western shift in this period at speeds of around 9.5 miles per decade. Almost no tree species shifted southward or eastward. Most trees that moved west were flowering plants or angiosperms, while the northbound trees were mostly gymnosperms or coniferous trees. The authors posit that significant rainfall in central United States is the cause behind the westward movement of the angiosperms. 

Land Use

Projected climate change impacts on skiing and snowmobiling: A case study of the U.S.

Wobus, C., Small, E.E., Hosterman, H., Mills, D., Stein, J., Rissing, M., Jones, R., Duckworth, M., Hall, R., Kolian, M. and Creason, J. 2017. Projected climate change impacts on skiing and snowmobiling: A case study of the United States. Global Environmental Change, 45, pp.1-14. DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.04.006

The authors of this study simulated natural snow accumulation at 247 winter recreation locations across the continental United States. They combined a physically-based water and energy balance model with projections of snowmaking conditions to determine downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling season lengths under baseline and future climates, using data from five climate models and two emissions scenarios. Their results suggest that virtually all locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season lengths, exceeding 50% by 2050 and 80% in 2090 for some downhill skiing locations. They estimated that these season length changes could result in millions to tens of millions of foregone recreational visits annually by 2050. 

Stormwater management: Lessons from our forests

This Sightline Institute article discusses a recent report from the Urban Greenprint project that recommends biomimicry-inspired designs in stormwater management infrastructure. For example, one of the report’s natural stormwater management designs describes how a forest’s textured flora acts as a living sponge, facilitating evaporation. The report then outlines how designers could incorporate texturing in their buildings to slow or even make use of stormwater running down a building. Evergreen needles are another source of inspiration in these designs, as they hold water suspended at the tip, allowing for increased evaporation. By integrating wire sculptures, awnings and screens, the report describes how buildings could do the same. The authors note that biomimicry holds promising techniques in how we develop our cities in the future. 

Taking Action

The latest weapons against climate change: The beaver, the oyster, cold water and more

The Wildlife Conservation Society recently released a report titled 14 Solutions to Problems Climate Change Poses for Conservation. It discusses adaptation strategies for coping with climate change that include beaver reintroductions, high elevation stream restoration, and oyster reef construction. Solutions profiled include traditional and innovative conservation tools applied strategically to address climate change impacts such as decreasing water availability, increasing risk of flooding and wildfires, rising sea levels, direct effects on species and habitats, and changing land use and human behaviors. Projects profiled were funded in part by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund.

Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Matters

A case for indigenous community forestry

Lawler, J.H.; Bullock, R.C.L. 2017. A Case for Indigenous Community Forestry. Journal of Forestry. 115(2), 117-125. DOI: https://doi-org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.5849/jof.16-038

In this article, the authors discuss the core principles and supporting conditions of indigenous community forestry in the context of Manitoba, Canada, where indigenous and forestry issues are closely connected. Contemporary forest management across North America faces increasingly complex and competing demands, particularly in adapting to changing environmental and economic needs. Indigenous community forestry focuses on local control, benefits, and values, and offers one approach to address forest management challenges. Regions with adequate natural capital, supportive policy, and tenure options to provide community timber access are well suited to explore community capacity and interest in this type of forest management practice. By providing a local forum for direct community participation and decision-making in natural resource development and planning, this approach can play a key role in promoting economic development and community well-being, and supporting environmental management. Broader benefits are also associated with indigenous community forestry including collaboration, relationship building, and trust, as well as balancing local values, economic development, and conservation. Involving indigenous communities in forest management bridges traditional indigenous rights, knowledge systems, and values with scientific forestry, offering new opportunities and insights in contemporary forest management.

Tribal perspectives sought for an update to the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document

A new Science Report was released in April of 2017. This document is intended to help state agencies and local, regional, and Tribal governments provide guidance for incorporating sea-level rise projections into planning, permitting, investment and other decisions. The final updated Guidance Document that incorporates the results of this Science Report will be released in January 2018. Currently the California Natural Resources Agency is seeking tribal input on how climate change is affecting California Tribes and what can California do to better incorporate Tribal perspectives into climate adaptation strategies going forward. For more information, contact Emma Johnston at Emma.Johnston@resources.ca.gov.

Dr. Kyle Whyte’s Indigenous climate change & climate justice teaching materials & advanced bibliography

Dr. Kyle Whyte is an internationally-respected authority on issues related to climate policy and Indigenous peoples and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and climate science organizations. Recently he created a webpage compiling introductory writings and reviews on Indigenous peoples and climate justice and a comprehensive bibliography of materials published on the broad topic of Indigenous peoples and climate change. Those interested in adding to the bibliography are encouraged to email Dr. Whyte at kwhyte@msu.edu.