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 #28, Winter 2012

In this Issue

  1. Climate Outlook
  2. Assessing Vulnerability of Washington's Transportation Infrastructure
  3. Research Finds Substantial Losses in Mount Adams Glacial Mass
  4. New Climatic and Hydrologic Datasets Available
  5. U.S. National Forests Adapt to Climate Change through Science–Management Partnerships
  6. Reducing Climate Risks to Sound Transit
  7. World Wildlife Fund Releases Adaptation Report for Water Management
  8. Upcoming Conferences
  9. CIG Publications

1. Climate Outlook

What's next for the Pacific Northwest? La Niña conditions tilt the odds toward wetter and cooler winters, but so far only the latter portion of that typical situation has come into fruition. Read more on the outlook for the Pacific Northwest...

2. Assessing Vulnerability of Washington's Transportation Infrastructure

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has completed a pilot study assessing the vulnerability of the State's transportation infrastructure to climate change. The project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), provided WSDOT the opportunity to test a conceptual model developed by the FHWA for assessing vulnerability of transportation systems while advancing the agency's own goals of reducing climate change risks.

WSDOT's approach integrated climate impacts information from the Climate Impacts Group with: 1) an inventory of WSDOT-owned assets, 2) a risk assessment methodology, and 3) detailed input from WSDOT subject matter experts collected through fourteen workshops around the state. The resulting product is a qualitative assessment of how vulnerable WSDOT's assets are to climate change impacts across all regions and modes of transportation, including highways, state ferries, rail, and aviation. Identified vulnerabilities include but are not limited to:

More information on the assessment results and methodology is available in the project report.

3. Research Finds Substantial Losses in Mount Adams Glacial Mass

A new study by researchers at Portland State University provides the first-ever assessment of changes in glacial extent on Mount Adams (WA), finding that glacier area decreased by 49% during the period from 1904 to 2006 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Glacial ice loss between 1904 and 2006. (Source: Sitts et al. 2010).

The loss in glacial extent on Mount Adams is considerably larger proportionally than what has been observed on neighboring Mount Rainier (24%) and Mount Hood (32%), although the rate of change for all three is similar. Increases in 20th century summer air temperature, especially since the 1980s, appear to be the primary driver for the glacial recession on all three volcanoes. Losses on Mount Adams may be greater, however, given that Mount Adams sits farther east of Mount Rainier and Mount Hood, placing it in the rain shadow of the Cascades. Changes in precipitation over the last century have been too small to influence glacial activity in any significant way.

More information on the study's methodology and results is available in the published study: Sitts, D., Fountain, A.G., and Hoffman, M. 2010. Twentieth century glacier change on Mount Adams, Washington, USA. Northwest Science, 84, 378-385.

Related media coverage:

4. New Climatic and Hydrologic Datasets Available

The CIG has released four new climatic data sets that can be used to support impacts assessment by a range of users at a range of scales. These include:

More detailed information on each of these datasets and links to their respective websites are provided below.

1. Climate and Hydrologic Change for the North Pacific Rim

This project was designed to provide internally consistent datasets of medium-scale (~50 km) climatic variables over large regions. These datasets support the needs of natural resource agencies to assess the vulnerability of terrestrial and near-shore ecosystems, particularly salmon habitats, to climate change. The region covered includes all watersheds that drain into the North Pacific Ocean, from California, through the Bering Strait, to Japan. The dataset consists of downscaled historical and projected climate data (temperature and precipitation); hydrologic data (e.g., snow water equivalent, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, runoff, etc.); and sea surface temperatures at ~100 km resolution. Visit the project website for a complete description and access to the datasets

2. Climate Change Projections for U.S. Forest Service Lands in Oregon and Washington

This project uses existing climate change datasets from the CIG to summarize climate change impacts to USFS lands in Oregon and Washington. The specific variables of interest are those that affect freshwater aquatic species, including projected changes in water availability, snowpack and flood and low flow severities. These data are summarized over ecologically- and hydrologically-relevant domains, including Bailey ecosections and Omernik level III ecoregions, and 8-digit and 10-digit Hydrologic Unit Codes, (HUC 4 and HUC 5, respectively). The data are aggregated into monthly summaries for the historical and projected climatic and hydrologic variables. For a complete description of the project, including the report and links to the datasets, use the link to the website.

3. Fine-scale Monthly Climate Change Data for the Greater PNW

As finer-scale climate data becomes more widely available with the rising sophistication of gridding techniques, resource managers are requesting higher resolution data for impact assessments. This project supplies historical and future downscaled monthly climate data for the PNW, British Columbia and Alaska panhandle regions at the resolution of 30 arc-seconds (~800 m). For more information and access to the data, visit the project website.

4. Historical and Future Projected Changes in Snow Water Equivalent for Oregon and Washington

Water resource managers and aquatic wildlife specialists need high resolution hydrologic data to forecast operational or habitat shifts resulting from climate changes. This project uses climate data from the previous study to estimate historical and future snow water equivalent (SWE) at the resolution of 30 arc-seconds (~800 m) for the states of Oregon and Washington. The website provides a description of the project and access to the data.

5. U.S. National Forests Adapt to Climate Change through Science–Management Partnerships

Natural resource managers face unprecedented challenges when considering how to most effectively incorporate climate change adaptation into management strategies. Science-management partnerships can provide valuable information for navigating these challenges, as illustrated in a recent study led by CIG researcher Jeremy Littell and researchers from the U.S. Forest Service.

In this study, science and management personnel were brought together to develop adaptation options for two national forests: the Olympic National Forest (WA) and Tahoe National Forest (CA). The effort used focus group meetings to review existing climate change information and develop adaptation recommendations. In this process, climate change scientists provided the scientific knowledge on which adaptations could be based and resource managers developed adaptation options based on their understanding of ecosystem structure, function, and management.

General adaptation strategies developed through the focus group process included the following:

Specific adaptation strategies were also identified for each forest, including: increase landscape diversity, maintain biological diversity, implement early detection/rapid response for exotic species and undesirable resource conditions, treat large-scale disturbance as a management opportunity and integrate it in planning, and collaborate with a variety of partners on adaptation strategies and to promote ecoregional management.

For more information on the study's results, see:

Littell, J.S., D.L. Peterson, C.I. Millar, and K. A. O'Halloran. 2011. U.S. National Forests adapt to climate change through science-management partnerships. Climatic Change. Online First, May 21, 2011. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0066-0.

6. Reducing Climate Risks to Sound Transit

The Climate Impacts Group is partnering with Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to design and implement a risk assessment and adaptation planning process aimed at reducing climate change risks to Sound Transit's operations, assets, and long-term planning. The project is one of six national pilots funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The Sound Transit Climate Risk Reduction Project will study how potential impacts from climate change may challenge the agency's infrastructure. The range of impacts may include flooding of coastal roads, railways, and subterranean tunnels; damage to rail-bed support structures, rails, and roadways due to increased flooding, landslides, and mudslides; thermal expansion of bridge expansion joints and pavement softening due to more extreme heat events; and limits on periods of construction activity due to health and safety concerns associated with increasing temperatures.

Results from the project will be incorporated into Sound Transit's ISO 14001 certified Environmental and Sustainability Management System (ESMS). The project will also provide an opportunity to test aspects of a climate change vulnerability assessment methodology piloted by WSDOT (see related story) in 2011 for the Federal Highway Administration. The approach taken in the Sound Transit Climate Risk Reduction Project, associated materials, and lessons learned will be documented and made available to transit agencies across the United States. Work on the project should be complete in spring 2013. Stay tuned to the Climate CIGnal for future updates.

Adapted from materials provided by Geoff Patrick, Sound Transit

7. World Wildlife Fund Releases Adaptation Report for Water Management

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) recently released a new comprehensive report entitled Shifting Course: Climate Adaptation for Water Management Institutions. The report identifies fifteen principles that can help water management institutions more successfully adapt to climate change. These principles include Flexible Resource Management, Legitimacy and Accountability, Monitoring and Evaluation, Mainstreaming, and Creativity and Learning. The report also includes international case studies from Brazil, Australia, Tanzania, the U.S., and Nepal that highlight differing water management responses to the challenges posed by a changing climate and illustrate how the guidelines might be implemented.

More information on the principles and case studies are available in the Shifting Course report.

8. Announcements for Upcoming Climate-related and Other Noteworthy Conferences

International Conference on Climate Adaptation– Tucson, AZ, May 29-31, 2012

The Second International Conference on Climate Adaptation will be held on May 29-31, 2012, in Tucson, Arizona. The conference will bring together researchers, policy makers, and practitioners from developed and developing countries to share insights into the challenges and opportunities that adaptation presents. It will showcase cutting-edge research from around the world, focusing on themes of equity and risk, learning, capacity building, methodology, adaptation finance and investment, and ecosystem-based adaptation approaches. The conference will explore practical adaptation policies and approaches, and share strategies for decision making from the international to the local scale. More information on the conference and links for registration are available on the conference website (note: early registration ends March 31, 2012).

The Fourth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses - Seattle, WA, July 12-13, 2012

The Fourth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses will be held at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA on July 12 – 13. This interdisciplinary conference is for scholars, teachers, and practitioners from any professional discipline who share an interest in-and concern for-the societal impacts of climate change. This year's conference theme emphasizes local and regional responses to global issues of climate change and impact. See the conference website for more information, visit the conference website.

2012 Columbia River Estuary Conference - Astoria, OR, May 15-17, 2012

The biennial 2012 Columbia River Estuary Conference will take place on May 15 – 17 at the Liberty Theatre in Astoria, OR. The theme of the 2012 conference is "New Scientific Findings and their Management Implications". Presentations that provide new scientific findings, contribute to a better understanding, describe innovative techniques or discuss new emerging issues for the lower Columbia River and estuary ecosystems or ESA listed species are welcome. Abstracts for this conference are due February 29. More information about the conference and instructions on abstract submission can be found here.

9. CIG Publications

Posted February 9, 2012