Outreach, Classes, and Seminars

The Pacific Northwest Climate CIGnal

The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) issues a quarterly electronic newsletter designed to provide updates on regional climate and climate-related research, meetings, and topics of interest to Pacific Northwest (PNW) decision makers and resource managers. The first newsletter was distributed in January 2005.

To subscribe to the newsletter, please visit the CIG's "climateupdate" listserve home page. You can also subscribe to the newsletter by sending a blank email to the following address: climateupdate-subscribe@mailman.u.washington.edu.


The Pacific Northwest Climate CIGnal

Issue #12, Winter 2008

In this Issue

  1. Pacific Northwest climate outlook
  2. Pacific Northwest streamflow forecast updates
  3. New report updates sea level rise projections for Washington State
  4. Update on the Washington State climate change impacts assessment
  5. Draft recommendations on adapting to climate change in Washington State now available
  6. CIG scientists part of Nobel Peace Prize
  7. Final IPCC report released
  8. CIG in the news: Recent media stories
  9. Recent CIG publications

1. Pacific Northwest Climate Outlook

Cold ENSO continues in the equatorial Pacific, with mean October-November-December sea surface temperatures (SSTs) 1.48°C below the 1971-2000 normal in the Niño 3.4 region (5N-5S, 170-120W), the coldest SSTs at this time of the year since 1988 and the 6th coldest in the 58 year record. Cold conditions are forecast to remain strong through the remainder of the December-January-February season, with diminished cold ENSO conditions persisting through June-July-August. Read more...

2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Updates

West-wide Seasonal Hydrologic Forecasts Update (Columbia R., Snake R., and other western-U.S. rivers)

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) began the water year with below normal soil moisture in most of the region, with the Washington's North Cascades providing the main exception. Since then, in keeping with expectations for La Niña conditions, the PNW has received rainfall that normal to slightly above normal for the period (although a substantial portion of the total came during the early December storms) coupled with temperatures that are slightly cooler than normal. As a result, the October moisture deficits have recovered in most of the Columbia River basin despite lingering dryness in central Idaho, western Montana, and the southern edge of the Snake River basin. Snowpack in the Cascades Mountains is above average, and normal in the remainder of the basin with the exception of the southern rim of the Snake River basin.

Graphical depictions of recent estimates of soil moisture, snow water equivalent, and streamflow can be found at the University of Washington's West-wide Seasonal Hydrologic Forecast System website. These experimental real-time forecasts are updated monthly and are based on several climate forecast methods. A number of products at the web-site are also updated on a daily basis. These include basin-averaged water balance conditions for each forecast point, spatial maps of current conditions, and a spatial summary of snow water equivalent for the western U.S.

A related effort that offers daily updates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S., can be found on the UW Experimental Surface Water Monitor website. The Surface Water Monitor shows daily updating estimates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S. The site also now offers weekly projections for soil moisture and runoff across the U.S., for lead times up to 3 months. The broader geographic analysis shows current dry conditions in parts of the PNW persisting for at least 3 months. Since the website's launch in April 2005, the Surface Water Monitor has increasingly become a data source used by U.S. Drought Monitor and Drought Outlook authors in the preparation of their operational products.

3. New Report Updates Sea Level Rise Projections for Washington State

Melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, combined with other effects of global climate change, are likely to raise sea levels in Western Washington by the end of this century, though geological forces will offset the rising water in some areas.

A new report, produced by the Climate Impacts Group and Washington State's Department of Ecology, suggests a moderate increase in sea levels on the Washington Coast and in the Puget Sound Basin of 6 inches by 2050 and 13 inches by 2100. A worst-case (but low probability) scenario could raise sea levels in some places as much as 22 inches by 2050 and 50 inches -- more than 4 feet -- by 2100.

The scenarios are based on projections for worldwide sea level increases contained in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that this year shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

The new sea level rise report indicates that some of the sea level rise in Washington state would be mitigated by rising shorelines due to uplift from plate tectonics. That would be especially true along the northwest coast on the Olympic Peninsula. The central and southern coastline and the Puget Sound basin are more likely to see a noticeable sea level rise.

The paper also considers other factors in sea level rise -- expansion of sea water because of warming and the addition of water from melting glaciers -- along with local atmospheric circulation changes that could increase tide levels. Even a small increase in sea level, when combined with higher tides or large storm surges, could bring more frequent events that inundate the coastline.

The report, "Sea Level Rise in the Coastal Waters of Washington State," is intended to provide planners and policy makers with information they need to consider when issuing building permits, for example, or determining sites for proposed factories or roads.

The report is not a prediction of what will occur but rather aims to examine probabilities that can guide planning. The choice of which sea level rise scenario to plan for will depend on three important issues: the location, the length of time the location is to be used, and the acceptable risk level.

The risk of rising sea levels might be acceptable for someone such as the retiree, who might only plan to use the land for 10 or 20 years, but that risk might be unacceptable for a city or a corporation planning to build a major plant to last 50 or 100 years, noted Philip Mote, lead author of the paper.

See “CIG in the News” for related press stories.

4. Update on the Washington State Climate Change Impacts Assessment

As previously reported in the Climate CIGnal, the Climate Impacts Group, Washington State University, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on Washington State. The assessment was funded in April 2007 by the Washington State Legislature under House Bill 1303. Work on the assessment began in summer 2007.

The state impacts assessment focuses on eight key sectors: hydrology and water resources, energy, salmon, forests, agriculture, coasts, infrastructure, and human health. Updated climate change scenarios were developed to support the new analyses and adaptation strategies for each sector will also be discussed in the assessment.

An interim report identifying key findings to date in each of the assessment's eight sectors was submitted to the State in December 2007. The interim report provides an early outlook on the direction of the study and key findings as of December 2007. In addition, each sector has briefly addressed adaptation, and where appropriate, the CIG's role in supporting the State's Preparation and Adaptation Working Groups (see related story). A final report on the HB 1303 assessment is due on December 15, 2008.

5. Draft Recommendations on Adapting to Climate Change in Washington State Now Available

Washington State is nearing completion of an 8-month stakeholder-based process to identify potential climate change adaptation actions for the state. Preparation and Adaptation Working Groups (PAWGs) were convened in summer 2007 to develop recommendations for Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire on how the state can begin preparing for the impacts of climate change in five key economic sectors: fresh water, agriculture, public health, forests, and coasts and infrastructure. Members included representatives from the public and private sector, non-profit groups, tribes, and the research community. The CIG provided technical support and a representative to each of the PAWGs.

The PAWGs concluded their work in December 2007 and a draft report summarizing the recommendations was released for public review on December 21, 2007. The PAWG recommendations encompass a broad range of strategies reflecting five broad themes:

Final PAWG recommendations will be presented to the Governor on February 7, 2008. For a generalized summary of the PAWG recommendations, see the Washington Dept. of Ecology's Focus Sheet “Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change: Initial Assessment and Strategies”.

6. CIG Scientists Part of Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Gore Jr. were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". The IPCC assessment is unique in the scale of its effort. The 2007 assessment process involved more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, 800 contributing authors, and 450 lead authors from more than 130 countries. The Nobel Prize was a recognition of the efforts of all scientists and government representatives involved in past and present IPCC assessment efforts.

The Center for Science in the Earth System (CSES), which includes the CIG, is pleased to have contributed to the current and past IPCC assessment reports. The following CSES scientists were involved in writing and/or reviewing the most recent IPCC assessment report or previous reports:

A complete list of UW faculty and staff who have participated in the IPCC process is available from the UW Program on Climate Change.

7. Final IPCC Report Released

The final report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) on climate change was released on November 17, 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report integrates the findings of the three IPCC Working Group reports released earlier in 2007 into a “readable and concise document” for policymakers.

Hard copies of the three 2007 Fourth Assessment reports are now available for purchase from Cambridge University Press. The reports are also available as free PDF downloads. More information on purchasing copies of the IPCC reports is available from Cambridge University Press.

8. CIG in the News: Recent Media Stories

Recent media stories featuring CIG research and/or researchers include the following:

Additional news items are available at CIG in the News.

9. Recent CIG Publications

Recent CIG publications include the following:

For copies of these papers, please contact the CIG. A complete listing of CIG publications is available on the CSES publications page.

Posted January 28, 2008