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 #23, Fall 2010

In this Issue

  1. Announcing the new DOI Northwest Climate Science Center
  2. Welcoming the new PNW RISA at OSU
  3. Washington assessment in published in Climatic Change
  4. Grant awarded for research on Harmful Algal Blooms in the Puget Sound
  5. State of the Climate Report 2009
  6. Climate Outlook
  7. Streamflow forecast for the PNW
  8. New listserve for the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios project
  9. Review of the CIG's water and climate meetings for the 2011 Water Year
  10. Upcoming meeting announcement
  11. CIG in the News

1. Announcing the new DOI Northwest Climate Science Center

On September 23, 2010, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced the establishment of a Northwest Climate Science Center that will be jointly placed at University of Washington (UW), Oregon State University, and the University of Idaho, with collaborations at research institutions across the Northwest (a complete list of collaborating research institutions is provided at the end of this article).

The Northwest Climate Science Center (NWCSC) is one of eight planned regional Climate Science Centers to be established nationally by the DOI. The Centers place federal scientists at Universities and facilitate, via competitive research grants, research collaborations that support regional decision support needs. Once fully instituted, the eight Climate Science Centers will provide a seamless network of scientific climate and adaptation expertise that can be accessed by managers in the DOI and other federal agencies, state agencies, and the private and nonprofit sectors.

The UW's contributions to the NWCSC, which include the CIG's expertise, will be directed by the College of the Environment. CIG and the other UW entities involved in the NWCSC will continue to maintain their individual program identities, research agendas, and stakeholder engagement processes.

The NWCSC and the scientific collaborations emerging from it will complement and extend the CIG's core strengths in atmospheric sciences and regional climate modeling, hydrology and water management, forest and fishery ecology, adaptation planning, and stakeholder engagement. The NWCSC's charge also complements a number of ongoing projects at the CIG, including the following:

We look forward to providing more information on the NWCSC in coming issues of the Climate CIGnal.

Collaborators: The NWCSC is co-hosted by OSU and UW, with significant partnership from the University of Idaho. Other collaborating institutions include Boise State University, Idaho State University, Montana State University, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University, University of Montana, University of Oregon, Washington State University, Idaho National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Western Regional Climate Center.

2. Welcoming the new PNW RISA at OSU

From 1995 to present, the CIG was sponsored in part by the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program. RISA support for the CIG ends in spring 2011. A new Pacific Northwest RISA will be based at Oregon State University's Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI), co-led by Dr Philip Mote and Dr Denise Lach. We look forward to working with OCCRI and its partners as this new program gets underway.

3. Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment published in Climatic Change

In September 2010, the peer-reviewed science journal Climatic Change published a special issue (Vol. 102, Issue 1) dedicated to the results of the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment. The Washington Assessment evaluated how 21st century climate change may affect eight key sectors of Washington's environment and economy: agriculture, coasts, energy supply and demand, forests, human health, hydrology and water resources, salmon, and urban stormwater infrastructure. Adaptation in each of these sectors was also discussed. Past Climate CIGnal updates on the Washington Assessment are available here.

A complete list of the published Washington Assessment papers is provided below. For more information on each paper, please click on the linked title.

Additional information on the Washington Assessment is available here.

The Washington Assessment was conducted by the CIG in 2007-2009 in partnership with Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.The assessment was funded by the Washington State Legislature through House Bill 1303.

4. Grant awarded for research on Harmful Algal Blooms in the Puget Sound

Two grants awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will fund research aimed at managing the threat of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) outbreaks to fisheries and public health in the Puget Sound.

CIG researchers are working with a consortium of scientists led by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center to create a method for forecasting HABs based on field and laboratory data. A forecast system would allow managers to identify areas in the Puget Sound prone to outbreaks of Alexandrium catanella, a dinoflagellate that produces potent neurotoxins known to accumulate in shellfish. Consumption of contaminated shellfish by humans is potentially fatal and has triggered numerous harvesting interruptions among shellfisheries during algal blooms.

HABs begin in the spring when the algae emerge from the bottom sediments, where they overwinter as seed-like cysts. Surveys of cyst populations provide data for maps, which are integrated with information about the environmental conditions favorable for cyst hatching and cell growth and with water movement models in the Puget Sound.

CIG researchers are using climate models to project the responses of HABs and the associated risks under future climate change scenarios. From the compilation of these data, researchers will construct seasonal forecasts of the severity and location of algal blooms in support of advanced warning systems. Equipped with the projections from these systems, shellfish managers can time harvests in the interest of public health while minimizing economic losses from shellfishery closures.


The HAB research is being led by Stephanie Moore
from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center,
in partnership with researchers Eric Salathé and
Nate Mantua (CIG), and others from San Francisco State
University, the University of Maine, the University of
Western Ontario, Canada, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Lead researchers in EcoHAB project

5. State of the Climate Report 2009

In July of 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual State of the Climate Report. The Report summarizes climate conditions from 2009 and the observations related to key climate indicators, including temperature, sea ice, glaciers, precipitation, greenhouse gases, humidity and cloud cover. The Report also details extreme weather and climatic events over the past year, documenting the El Niño episode, major hurricanes, floods and droughts worldwide. Major findings from the 2009 report are summarized below.


Figure 1 Increases in ocean heat content in joules (a metric of energy) as compared to the 1955 – 2002 average. Colored lines represent independently collected data sources (from State of the Climate 2009 Report).

The report also explains some of the differences between weather and climate. Whereas short-term, natural variability can heavily influence weather patterns causing them to change dramatically from one year to the next, climate is the longer-term average of those weather patterns. Although last winter was particularly cold and snowy on the Atlantic seaboard due to a cold air mass migrating southward from Canada, many other regions worldwide experienced anomalously warm temperatures. Furthermore, the global average temperature last winter proved one of the highest on record, reinforcing the 30-year trend.

6. Climate Outlook

The consideration of current conditions and model forecasts has led NOAA to expect that cold ENSO conditions will "last at least into Northern Hemisphere spring 2011" (7 October, NOAA). Read more on the outlook for the Pacific Northwest...

7. Pacific Northwest Streamflow Forecast

The National Weather Service River Forecast Center (NWRFC) has two methods to forecast streamflows. One is based on a multiple regression model that applies observed metrics, such as snow water equivalent, monthly precipitation and previous streamflows, to project monthly and seasonal streamflow volumes. This method is used to forecast unimpaired water supplies for the Columbia River Basin, coastal watersheds in Washington and Oregon and the Great Basin of Oregon. The other method, shown here, is the Ensemble Prediction System (ESP), which generates long-range probabilistic forecasts. ESP applies a physically-based model to simulate such features as soil moisture, snowpack, regulation and streamflow. Based on the current conditions hydrologic parameters, ESP applies historical meteorological data to create probabilistic sequences of projected hydrologic conditions.

The antecedent conditions of precipitation, temperature and snow are the most widely used indicators for streamflow projections. The Columbia Basin and the region west of the Cascade Mountains maintained dry, warm conditions at the start of September. This pattern dissipated within the first few days of the month as a jet stream replaced the high pressure system and brought rain over the Northwest and southern British Columbia. Drier, warmer conditions returned at the end of September as a high pressure system revisited the region. These dry conditions persisted through October for the region west of the Cascades in Washington, for much of the Columbia headwaters in British Columbia and for western Montana. October precipitation was 93% of normal at the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River (all magnitudes are compared to the 1971-2000 average). Most of the rest of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) underwent wetter than normal conditions during the month of October (see precipitation map). Precipitation at the Snake River upstream of Ice Harbor and the Columbia River above the Dalles were higher than average, 161% and 122%, respectively. Temperatures in October were warmer for the majority of the PNW region, where the warm departures visited southern British Columbia, north and eastern Washington, sweeping through most of Idaho, western Montana and eastern Oregon. The northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and coastal Oregon were also warmer than average in October. Average temperatures characterized the rest of the Olympic Peninsula, southeastern Washington and central Oregon in October (see temperature map).

Applying the ESP method to forecast streamflows, the upper Columbia at Grand Coulee is projected to receive 87% of average streamflows, the lower Columbia at the Dalles is anticipated to receive 92%, and the Snake River at Lower Granite is expected to receive 90% of average streamflows during the January to July months. However, forecasts for the upcoming winter point to a dominant La Niña influence, suggesting cooler, wetter conditions (see climate outlook). When the effects of El Niña are included in the ESP model, the projected streamflows rise across the region. Taking La Niña into consideration, Grand Coulee receives 97% of average streamflows, projected streamflows at the Dalles increase to 100%, and forecasts for Lower Granite are 97% of the average.

Details about the NWRFC, forecast methodology and the forecasts reported here can be obtained from the presentation (Stephen King, NWS River Forecast Center) given at the WA/OR climate and water meeting on October 25, 2010.

8. New listserve for the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios project

The Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project is a comprehensive study applying climate and hydrologic models to watersheds throughout the Pacific Northwest to investigate the response of hydrologic systems to a changing climate.

The data and summary products generated from this project are available for free to the public and are being downloaded and applied by water managers throughout the PNW. To help users stay current on updates to the products, the CIG has created a listserve that will be used for distributing update notifications to users. There is also a webpage describing any updates and revisions to the data products from this project.

You can join the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project listserve by selecting the first menu item on the Project's home page.

9. Review of the CIG's water and climate meetings for the 2011 Water Year

Each year the CIG hosts two climate and water workshops to discuss the upcoming winter forecast for climate and streamflow conditions. One workshop takes place on the west side of the Cascades with a focus on the Columbia River Basin and coastal drainages in Washington and Oregon. The other workshop takes place in Boise, Idaho, with a focus on the Snake River and Columbia River Basin on the east side of the Cascades. The meetings also provide an opportunity to present new research, decision support tools and other information applicable to water resource management.

This year's west side meeting took place on October 20th in Vancouver, WA and drew participants from a wide range of agencies and organizations, including the 3TIER, Cascadia Consulting Group, Portland General Electric, Portland Water Bureau, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Puget Sound Energy, WA Department of Ecology, National Weather Service, USGS, US Fish & Wildlife, US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Forest Service, among many others.

The east side meeting took place on November 2nd and was co-hosted by the Idaho EPSCoR Climate and Water Project and the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Attendees at the Boise meeting included representatives from the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Idaho Power Company, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, US Bureau of Reclamation, US Army Corps of Engineers, Snake River Salmon Solutions and Trout Unlimited, among others.

Highlights from the meetings included presentations on the following topics:

Updates from WUCA, EPA's Climate Ready Water Utility Group, the federal C3 group, CIG, and OCCRI on climate decision support research and programs (east and west side meetings)

10. Upcoming Meeting Announcements

The 91st annual American Meteorological Society (AMS) meeting will take place in Seattle on January 23-27, 2011. The theme for the AMS 2011 Annual Meeting is "Communicating Weather and Climate". Effective communication is a key component in the intersection of scientific research and public interest. An interdisciplinary approach to science and creating channels for public access to key findings contributes to the scientific literacy of society. This meeting will provide and opportunity for researchers to discuss effective means of communicating weather and climate forecasts that is useful for public sectors. For more details and registration information, please visit the meeting website.

9. CIG in the News

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


Additional news items are available at CIG in the News.

Posted November 12, 2010