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 #27, Fall 2011

In this Issue

  1. Climate Outlook
  2. Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Western U.S. Trout
  3. The Skagit Climate Science Consortium
  4. Climate Impacts and the Future of the Skagit Basin: Envision Skagit 2060
  5. Adapting to Climate Change at Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park
  6. Wrapping Up: the Climate and Water Outlook for 2012 Webinar and the Second Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference
  7. New Climate "Normals"
  8. CIG Researchers Win US Forest Service Research Award
  9. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Jump in 2010
  10. PNW Ocean Acidification Featured on Seattle Public Radio
  11. New Tools and Resources for Adaptation Planning

1. Climate Outlook

What's next for the Pacific Northwest? The projection of continued La Niña conditions tilts the odds towards relatively cool and wet winter. The wetter conditions usually occur in the early part of the wet season (October through December) while the colder conditions tend to occur later in the winter (January through March). Read more on the outlook for the Pacific Northwest...

See related story on the CIG's climate and water forecasts webinar for the 2012 water year.

2. Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Western U.S. Trout

Fish that reside in freshwaters of the inland western U.S. are acclimated to the rigors of coldwater conditions and seasonal flooding patterns. Many trout species found in the region are adapted to exploit the thermal regimes and seasonal flooding cycles of this region where other fish species cannot compete. However these conditions are projected to shift as temperatures warm in the future, potentially affecting the ability of trout to make use of historical habitat.

A recent study involving CIG researchers assessed how aquatic conditions could change as a result of climate change and how those changes might affect the distribution and population dynamics of four western U.S. trout species (Figure 1): native cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarkii), nonnative brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), nonnative brown trout (Salmo trutta), and the predominantly introduced rainbow trout (O. mykiss). The study used climate and hydrologic model projections to assess how the four species respond to anticipated changes in stream temperatures, high flow cycles, and competitive interactions. The estimated responses of individual species to these drivers were then used to determine the distributional shifts of each species.

Figure 1. from Wegner et al. 2011. Projected distribution of suitable habitat for trout under current conditions, 2040s A1B, and 2080s A1B climate change scenarios, based on the composite GCM. Black indicates mostly suitable; gray indicates mostly unsuitable (source). To enlarge the image, go here and click on the figure.


The implication for all species was a decline in population, however some fared better due to a competitive edge over other species. Estimates of suitable habitat losses by the 2080s are about 58% for cutthroat trout, 35% for rainbow trout, 48% for brown trout, and 77% for brook trout. The study further parses out each species' sensitivities to individual drivers of warmer temperatures, high flows and competitive interaction. The entire report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and can be accessed here.

Paper reference: Wenger, S.J., D.J. Isaak, C.H. Luce, H.M. Neville, K.D. Fausch, J.B. Dunham, D.C. Dauwalter, M.K. Young, M.M. Elsner, B.E. Rieman, A.F. Hamlet, and J.E. Williams. (In review). Flow regime, temperature and biotic interactions determine winners and losers among trout species under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. August 23; 108(34): 14175–14180, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1103097108.

3. The Skagit Climate Science Consortium

A new climate impacts research consortium has been established in the Skagit River basin (Washington) to support climate science and decision support needs in the Skagit valley. The Skagit Climate Consortium, or SC2, is a multidisciplinary group of research scientists from federal, tribal, municipal, university, and non-governmental organizations working in the Skagit basin (see members). SC2 was established to help facilitate research on climate change impacts in the Skagit basin, ensure that research is integrated closely with the concerns and needs of Skagit communities, and improve the communication and availability of climate-related research information relevant to the Skagit basin.

SC2 represents an important step forward in integrating climate impacts science at the watershed scale. Through increased coordination of independently-funded research activities and development of joint proposals that connect, for example, changes in glaciers and hydrology with changes in the nearshore environment, SC2's efforts will support a more holistic assessment of how climate impacts affect the complex relationships that exist in (and between) the Skagit basin's built and natural environments.

SC2 recently hosted a workshop with elected officials and staff members from Skagit Valley communities and tribes to update decision makers on climate impacts research specific to the Skagit Basin, and to provide an opportunity for conversation between decision-makers and scientists about that science. To support this workshop, the CIG partnered with SC2 to develop two brief summary documents on climate variability and change and climate impacts on the Skagit basin. Additional workshops with elected officials and other interests in the basin are being planned for 2012.

More information on SC2 is available here. Funding for SC2 is currently provided by the Swinomish Tribe as part of an Environmental Protection Agency grant, the City of Anacortes, and Seattle City Light.

For more on Skagit basin climate impacts, see related "Envision Skagit" story in this newsletter.

4. Climate Impacts and the Future of the Skagit Basin: Envision Skagit 2060

Population in the Skagit Valley is projected to double in the next 50 years, potentially affecting the basin's highly productive farm, forestry, and shellfish industries; environmental priorities (such as water quality and fish and wildlife habitat); and quality of life. Addressing this and other challenges – including climate change impacts in the Skagit Valley – will require careful consideration of how and where to direct that growth.

The Envision Skagit 2060 project is an integrated approach to anticipate and prepare for changes in natural and built systems over the next 50 years in the Skagit region. The effort, funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, involved Skagit County, conservation groups, tribes, local farmers, foresters, and academic researchers, including the CIG, who contributed a report on climate science and impacts to the basin. Among the findings reported in the climate science summary for the Skagit are the following:

Photo 1 Comparing ice loss at Silver Glacier between 1958 on the left (Post et al. 1971) and 2006 on the right (J.Scurlock).


For more details on these and other findings, see Skagit River Basin Climate Science Report, which can be accessed from the "Reports" section of the project website.

5. Adapting to Climate Change at Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a new general technical report (GTR) on adapting to climate change at Olympic National Forest (ONF) and Olympic National Park (ONP). The GTR, which includes contributions from CIG, provides a case study on collaborative development of adaption strategies and actions for federal lands. The effort also provided an unprecedented example of joint adaptation planning by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Included in the GTR is information about:

For more details, see Halofsky et al. 2011, Adapting to Climate Change at Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, PNW-GTR-844.

6. Wrapping Up: the Climate and Water Outlook for 2012 Webinar and the Second Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference

PNW Climate and Water Outlook for the 2012 Water Year Webinar

The CIG hosted an abbreviated version of its 15th annual fall climate and water forecast workshop on November 3rd as a webinar. The 2-hour webinar included presentations from CIG recapping the La Niña of 2010-11 and the climate outlook for winter 2011-12, and a presentation on the streamflow forecasts for 2012 from NOAA's PNW River Forecast Center. Several Q&A sessions were included between the presentations.

As noted in the Climate Outlook summary in this issue, a moderate La Niña has developed and is expected to persist through the winter. This increases the odds for wetter and cooler conditions, and produces above normal streamflow projections for spring 2012. This year's La Niña is weaker than the La Niña of 2010-11, which was noteworthy for the unusually cool and wet late spring conditions in much of the PNW, although a stronger cool phase (negative) PDO could make up for that relative weakening. More information on the recap and outlooks is available via the webinar presentations, which are available on the webinar website.

The Second Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference

In mid-September, the CIG hosted the second annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference in Seattle (see list of conference sponsors here). The two-day conference brought more than 300 people from federal, state, and local agencies, tribal governments, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and academia together to learn about and discuss the latest research developments related to PNW climate science, climate impacts, vulnerability assessment, and adaptation. Conference themes and highlighted research included the following:

The final plenary session of the meeting focused on climate trends and extremes. All of the presentations (including audio) and poster abstracts can be accessed from the conference agenda web page.

The Third Annual PNW Climate Science Conference will be held in Idaho in fall 2012. Stay tuned for more details!

7. New Climate "Normals"

In the fields of meteorology and climatology, the representation of "normal" climatic conditions gets updated every decade. "Normals", as they are referred to by the World Meteorological Organization, are averages of climate variables over the past three decades. So, for example, if meteorologists wanted to put the temperature of April 1st, 2011 in context of recent historical climatology, they would compare the average temperature of April 1, 2011 to the average temperature of all April 1s over the past 30 years (1981 – 2010). Various resource sectors around the country rely on the calculated Normals to determine power company regulations, energy load forecasting, crop selection, timing of planting, etc.

In the US, climate Normals are gathered from over 9800 stations across the country and analyzed by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and the National Weather Service (NWS). The new Normals, for 1981 – 2010, were recently released to replace the old Normals (1971 – 2000). This most recent round of Normals includes several updates and improvements to the monitoring systems and to the data analysis methods. For example, the temperature and precipitation data in this latest suite of Normals will be based on daily values, rather than derived from monthly values; the data will also undergo enhanced quality control tests to ensure a robust dataset.

Along with the release of the new Normals, the NCDC/NWS performed a few preliminary analyses to demonstrate some noteworthy temperature trends since the precedence of the former Normals. Comparing the minimum temperatures in January between the two ranges of Normals, there is a significant rise in the lowest temperatures across most of the U.S. (Figure 2). Alternatively, comparing the July maximum temperatures between the two Normals, we observe a noticeable warming pattern concentrated in the western U.S. (Figure 3).

Figure 2 Difference in January minimum temperature 30-year averages between 1971 – 2000 and 1980 – 2010 Normals (source).



Figure 3 Difference in July maximum temperature 30-year averages between 1971 – 2000 and 1980 – 2010 Normals (source).


It is worth noting that the new Normals are not useful for capturing climate signals. Many of the differences among the normals could arise from moving stations, changes in methodology or instrumentation rather than climatic trends. NOAA, therefore recommends using the US Historical Climatology Network (USHCN), a long-term trend time series, to infer impacts from climate change.

More info on Normals and access to the data from NOAA is available here.

8. CIG Researchers Win US Forest Service Research Award

Congratulations to CIG researchers, Don McKenzie and Jeremy Littell, for their reception of the Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research Award issued by the US Forest Service. Don and Jeremy were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the research and dissemination of findings on the impacts of climate change on fire regimes in wilderness areas. Their work has enhanced the understanding of adapting to shifts in disturbance regimes while upholding the integrity of wilderness areas under scenarios of a warmer future. Their most recent study to advance this line of research is currently in press and due for publication later this year in International Journal of Wilderness (McKenzie, D., and J.S. Littell. In press. Climate change and wilderness fire regimes. International Journal of Wilderness). To request a copy of this publication, email CIG.

9. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Jump in 2010

Global carbon dioxide emissions made a significant jump in 2010, increasing 5.9% over 2009 emissions. Much of the growth is attributed to increased emissions the People's Republic of China, which saw a 10% increase in emissions. Emissions from the United States increased 4%. More information on the growth in emissions is available from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (related media coverage).

10. PNW Ocean Acidification Featured on Seattle Public Radio

Seattle's KUOW 94.9FM hosted an hour-long program on ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest. The Weekday program featured Richard Feely, senior scientist at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, and Brian Baird, former member of the United States House of Representatives. You can listen to the program or download the podcast from the KUOW Weekday program website.

11. New Tools and Resources for Adaptation Planning

Georgetown Climate Center Adaptation Clearinghouse

The Georgetown Climate Center, a nonprofit organization based at Georgetown Law in Washington, DC, has launched the Adaptation Clearinghouse, an online database and networking tool to assist state and local policymakers, resource managers, and others who are working to help communities adapt to climate change. The clearinghouse contains nearly 1,000 resources, including state and local adaptation plans and adaptation legislation, which are organized by geography, sector, and impact. The Georgetown Climate Center has also released two new adaptation reports:

EPA Releases Climate Ready Water Utilities Toolbox

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its Climate Ready Water Utilities Toolbox, which provides access to more than 500 resources that support climate adaptation planning at water utilities, including reports and publications, information about funding programs, upcoming workshops and training sessions, models and tools, and climate response materials that focus on mitigation and adaptive strategies. The toolbox is organized into two sections: one that provides a selection of resources from each category, along with a map to help users select resources by geographic region; and a second section with a search function that helps users to select resources based on their location, the size and type of their utility, and resources of interest.

U.S. Department of Transportation Releases Framework for Considering Climate Change in Transportation and Land Use Planning

Based on lessons learned from an interagency pilot project on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the U.S. Department of Transportation has developed a guidebook for integrating climate change into transportation and land-use scenario planning. Through a process of data collection and scenario development, the pilot project resulted in a multi-agency transportation and land use development scenario for Cape Cod, with a focus on reducing future greenhouse gas emissions and considering the potential impacts of sea-level rise on the region. The guidebook is intended to serve as a resource for organizations that may be interested in, or stand to benefit from, incorporating climate change considerations into transportation and land use planning.

Posted November 10, 2011