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" list serve 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 #16, Winter 2009

In this Issue

  1. Pacific Northwest climate outlook
  2. Pacific Northwest streamflow forecast updates
  3. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment conference (2.12.09) and other meetings
  4. CIG researcher Philip Mote to head the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute
  5. Greenhouse gas emissions increase in US
  6. Recent U.S. Climate Change Synthesis and Assessment reports
  7. Frequently asked questions about climate models
  8. Recent CIG publications

1. Pacific Northwest Climate Outlook

The Pacific Northwest experienced a wide variety of weather in the last 30 days, from the cold and snow of late December to the mild temperatures, heavy rains, and flooding of early January, to an extended strong inversion in mid-January where a layer of warmer air trapped cold, stagnant air at the surface. Seasonal mean temperatures since October 1 have been near or slightly above average, while snowpack is much improved since mid-December 2008. Read more...

2. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast Updates

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

Current (January 2009) conditions contrast with those observed at the beginning of the water year (Oct 1, 2008). At the start of the Water Year, precipitation and temperature were slightly below normal and the ENSO-neutral conditions provided little guidance for the streamflow forecast (there is greater model skill during El Niño or La Niña years). Soil moisture conditions over the Snake and Columbia River basins were also below normal. These conditions translated into near normal streamflow forecast values for the April-September 2009 period for almost all the stations in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. However, towards the end 2008, forecasted streamflow conditions for stations along the Snake River were below normal due to the relatively dry conditions that remained at the time.

Increased winter precipitation, including extreme precipitation in parts of Oregon and Washington in January 2009, have created more favorable hydrological land surface conditions and improved streamflow forecasts along the Columbia River (but less so in the Snake basin). Soil moisture conditions are now above normal for most of the Pacific Northwest, which also contributed to a rise in the forecast streamflows as of January 15th.

For model runs initiated on January 15, Columbia River streamflow forecasts for April-to-September 2009 now show above normal values at stations around the Idaho-Washington border and the westernmost portion of Washington and Oregon. Fifty percent of the stations along the Snake River are currently projected to have near normal streamflows, an improvement from the below normal status observed in almost all the stations at the end of 2008. Considering the transition to La Niña and the current hydrological land surface conditions, above normal streamflows are forecast for April-to-September 2009 for the Columbia River stations and, to a lesser extent, the Snake River.

About the Forecasts. 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 web site. These experimental real-time forecasts are updated twice monthly (1st and the 15th) 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 web site. The Surface Water Monitor shows daily updating estimates of hydrologic conditions throughout the U.S. The site also offers weekly projections for soil moisture and runoff across the U.S. for lead times up to 3 months.

3. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment Conference and other meetings

Please join the Climate Impacts Group on February 12, 2009, for a one-day conference on the results of the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment (WACCIA). The conference will be held in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. Travel and registration reimbursement is now available for Washington state, county, local, and tribal governments.

Funded in 2007 by the Washington State Legislature, the WACCIA presents the latest on projected climate change impacts to Washington's agriculture, coasts, energy, forests, human health, salmon, urban stormwater infrastructure, and water supply. The conference will provide an opportunity to learn more about the results of the assessment and to discuss implications for Washington's communities and ecosystems. Adapting to climate change and updates on global climate change science, resources for building adaptive capacity for climate change, and state-level actions to address climate change will also be discussed.

The WACCIA Conference is open to the public. Resource managers, policymakers, business leaders, non-profit organizations, tribal governments, researchers, students, and concerned citizens are particularly encouraged to attend. Early registration ($100) lasts until Friday, January 30. Late registration ($135) is available from January 31-February 6, 2009. A limited number of reduced registrations ($75) are also available for eligible participants. No registrations will be accepted after February 6, 2009.

More information on the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment conference, including details on the reimbursement procedure, is available on the conference website or from the Climate Impacts Group at cig@u.washington.edu (206-616-5350).

March 18 Coastal Training Class on Planning for Climate Change

The Coastal Training Program of Washington has a few spaces left in a new training class titled Planning for Climate Change, scheduled for March 18 at the Lacey Community Center. The training will cover the fundamentals of how to plan for climate change, how to conduct a vulnerability assessment, how current state regulations address climate change, and how other governments are taking on the challenge of preparing for climate change. Participants will also become familiar with key data sources and learn specific strategies for engaging stakeholders in climate change preparedness. Finally, the training will include several exercises designed to help participants consider possible climate vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies in your community. For details, see the CTP's class schedule.

4. CIG Researcher Philip Mote to Head New Oregon Climate Change Research Institute

Philip Mote, CIG researcher and Washington state climatologist, will direct the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) and become a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University (OSU) beginning summer of 2009.

The OCCRI was established in 2007 to help the state better plan for and respond to climate change. In addition to facilitating research and providing climate change information to Oregon decision-makers, the OCCRI will support the state's new Oregon Global Warming Commission, created last year by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Dr. Mote is a leading scientist on the impacts of climate change, including variations in Pacific Northwest and national snowpacks, sea levels, water resources, precipitation and temperatures. He was a lead author for the fourth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which received a Nobel Prize for its efforts. Dr. Mote has been the Washington State Climatologist since 2003 and a research scientist at the CIG since 1998. Dr. Mote has a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the UW and received his undergraduate degree in physics from Harvard University.

Mark Abbott, dean of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, said Mote's leadership experience and extensive collaborative research will position the new center to become a critical asset for the state. Broadening scientific understanding will lead not only to better policy but it will help Oregon make wise investments for the future.

George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the Oregon University System, said Mote will help coordinate climate change research and outreach among faculty from a variety of fields through Oregon's public institutions and develop new research partnerships to help the state and the private sector meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change.

This article was adapted from a January 9, 2009, Oregon State University press release.

5. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Increase in U.S.

The amount of U.S. greenhouse gases flowing into the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, increased last year by 1.4% after a decline in 2006, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported December 3, 2008.

The report said carbon dioxide, the leading pollution linked to global warming, rose by 1.3% in 2007 as people used more coal, oil and natural gas because of a colder winter and more electricity during a warmer summer. Half of the country's electricity is generated by coal-burning power plants. A shortage of hydropower also contributed to an increase in the demand for fossil fuels, according to the EIA.

The EIA said that in 2007 the United States produced 8 billion tons (7.28 billion metric tons) of greenhouse gases, compared to 7.9 billion (7.18 billion metric tons) in 2006. The tonnage, presented in terms of "carbon dioxide equivalent" also includes methane, nitrous oxides and a number of lesser greenhouse gases, although carbon dioxide accounted for nearly 83% of the releases.

U.S. greenhouse gases have increased 16.7% since 1990, or an average of 0.9% a year, the EIA reported. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased an average of 1.1% a year since 1990.

Globally the increases have been even more dramatic, according to separate findings by scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They showed carbon dioxide output worldwide increased by 3% from 2006 to 2007 with a 7.5% increase in China, according to data released earlier in 2008.

EIA noted the reductions in 2006 reflected the year's warmer than normal winter, which cut demand for fuel oil and natural gas, and a moderate summer that reduced demand for coal-generated electricity for air conditioners.

Likewise, according to the EIA, the 2007 increase in emissions "resulted primarily from two factors: unfavorable weather conditions, which increase demand for heating and cooling in buildings, and a drop in hydropower availability that led to greater reliance on fossil energy sources (coal and natural gas) for electricity generation."

A more detailed accounting of the 2007 U.S. energy use statistics is available from the EIA.

Adapted from AP News story originally released December 3, 2008.

6. Recent U.S. Climate Change Synthesis and Assessment Reports

As reported in previous Climate CIGnals (vol 14, 15), a series of national climate change reports known as the Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs) are currently being released by the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). The SAPs draw from existing scientific literature to examine the impacts of climate change to U.S. agriculture, land and water resources, biodiversity, social systems, human health, transportation, and other sectors. Researchers at the CIG have contributed to several of these publications over the last two years.

Reports likely to have most relevance to Climate CIGnal readers are highlighted as they are released. A complete list of SAP products, status reports, and other details is available through the CCSP.

SAP 1.3 - Re-Analyses of Historical Climate Data for Key Atmospheric Features. Implications for Attribution of Causes of Observed Change (released 12.11.08)

SAP 1.3 describes what has changed—and why—in North America's climate over the past half century. The assessment also addresses the likelihood and extent to which human activity or natural variations have driven surface warming, precipitation, droughts, and floods. Key findings include:

The assessment also describes in detail how climate scientists use enormous amounts of data in a powerful method for examining past climate, called “reanalysis.” Another section illustrates how they systematically probe cause-and-effect relationships to find the most likely cause of a climate trend, a prolonged drought, or an unusually hot year – a process termed ‘attribution'.

Full report (pdf) | Executive Summary (pdf) | Individual Chapters

SAP 3.4 - Abrupt Climate Change (released 12.16.08)

SAP 3.4 examines four types of potential abrupt change that exist in the paleoclimatic record and which, if they were to recur, would pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt: (1) rapid change in glaciers, ice sheets, and hence sea level; (2) widespread and sustained changes to the hydrologic cycle; (3) abrupt change in the northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic Ocean associated with the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC); and (4) rapid release to the atmosphere of methane trapped in permafrost and on continental margins. Key findings include:

For the purposes of SAP 3.4, “abrupt climate change” is defined as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.

Full report (pdf) | Executive Summary (pdf) | Individual Chapters

SAP 4.2 - Thresholds of Change in Ecosystems (released 1.15.09)

SAP 4.2 considers reviews threshold changes in North American ecosystems that are potentially induced by climatic change and addresses the significant challenges that crossing these thresholds imposes on resource and land managers. The report provides an overview of what is known about ecological thresholds and where they are likely to occur, and identifies those areas where research is most needed to improve knowledge and understand the uncertainties regarding them. SAP 4.2 suggests a suite of potential actions that land and resource managers could use to improve the likelihood of success for the resources they manage, even under conditions of incomplete understanding of what drives thresholds of change and when changes will occur.

Full report (pdf)

SAP 5.2 - Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Decisionmaking (released 1.16.09)

SAP 5.2 provides a tutorial, of sorts, to the climate analysis and decision-making communities on current best practice in describing and analyzing uncertainty in climate-related problems. The report covers topics such as sources and types of uncertainty, the importance of quantifying uncertainty, cognitive challenges in estimating uncertainty, and methods for estimating uncertainty. Making decisions in the face of uncertainty and communicating uncertainty are also addressed.

Full report (pdf)

SAP 5.3 - Decision Support Experiments and Evaluations Using Seasonal to Interannual Forecasts and Observational Data: A Focus on Water Resources (released 11.13.08)

SAP 5.3 focuses on expanding the use of climate forecasts which are now used by a small number of decision makers. The report highlights early successes in using seasonal and yearly climate information to manage, for example, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, the City of Seattle's water supply, and water and wildfire planning in the West. However, the report also notes that this success can be expanded by building more credibility, legitimacy, and trust of climate forecasts. The report also suggests a better balance between physical science and social science research to improve decision support; improving climate and hydrological forecasts; and enhanced monitoring to strengthen links between climate and hydrologic forecasts. CIG researcher Nate Mantua and for CIG researcher Andy Wood help author SAP 5.3.

Full report (pdf) | Executive Summary (pdf) | Individual Chapters

7. Frequently Asked Questions about Climate Models

Modeling global climate is a complex process. The blog RealClimate recently posted two “Frequently Asked Questions” entries to help de-mystify some of the terminology and processes involved with climate modeling. Although the answers to the FAQs are somewhat technical, we thought you might be interested in the answers to some of the questions covered in the entries (listed below).

FAQs covered in Part 1, posted November 3, 2008

FAQs covered in Part 2, posted January 6, 2009


8. 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, 2009