Identifying and Evaluating Refugia From Drought and Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest

Emigrant Lake Bed, Oregon —Al Case, 2018

project image

Warmer temperatures and less precipitation in the western U.S. related to climate change are harming many important natural resources, including forests, rivers, and many fish and wildlife species. “Climate refugia” provide a potential opportunity for conserving resources and biodiversity in the face of climate change. These refugia are places where the climate will likely change less than the surrounding landscape and/or places in a landscape where species may move to find more suitable climates. For example, because climate change may alter the frequency, duration, or severity of droughts, small habitats that naturally retain water (“drought refugia”) may become increasingly important to many natural wildlife communities.

Although several approaches have been suggested for identifying climate refugia, large-scale mapping and evaluation of refugia have not yet been conducted in the Pacific Northwest. To address this information gap, the project researchers will use existing information on hydrology, soil characteristics, topography etc. to map areas of refugia that can protect wildlife from regional changes in temperature and precipitation.  The researchers will also explore and compare various types of refugia—e.g. from temperature change, drought, or wildfire—and will compile and synthesize scientific findings for use by natural resource managers.

Lead Investigator:
Jennifer Cartwright, USGS Lower Mississippi Gulf Water Science Center

Other Investigator(s):
Joshua Lawler, University of Washington

Project Contact:

State: Regionwide

Funding Year: FY 2016

Project Status: In Progress

Topic Category: Fish & Wildlife

Science Agenda Theme: Vulnerability and Adaptation, Communication of Science Findings, Response of Biological Systems to Climate Change, Response of Physical Systems to Climate Change



  • Consolidation of expert information: This project will draw on the research of local experts to map overlaps and differences across various areas that will continue to provide pockets of cooler temperature (i.e., climate refugia) or greater water availability (i.e., drought refugia) than the surrounding environment as the Northwest climate changes.
  • Enlightened understanding of local adaptation processes: This project will improve our understanding of the ecological and landscape processes that create similarities and differences between various types of drought and climate refugia. Insights into these processes may help land managers develop practices to increase the climate resilience of other areas. 
  • Conservation Northwest
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • US Forest Service
  • US National Park Service