Coastal Environments: Current Research
Integrated Coastal Watershed Management
- Ed Miles (contact person)
The Climate Impacts Group’s (CIG) coastal work has been curtailed in recent years due to funding limitations. Enhanced funding would allow us to restart our efforts in coastal zone research and to develop an integrated analysis of coastal watershed management in order to provide regional managers with information about how upland forestry and water resources management practices affect coastal and estuarine resources.
The overall goal of this research is to examine the multiple linkages between (1) human-caused ("anthropogenic") activities at the watershed scale (e.g., land use practices, including forestry), (2) stream flows and habitats, and the effects of those influences on (3) salmon productivity and general estuarine ecology, both of which are also affected by coastal ocean conditions.
Key Research Foci
Humans and nature in the coastal environment
- There are good indications of the effects of anthropogenic land development and land use on stream hydrology and riparian and in-stream habitats. Booth (2000), for example, suggests that as watersheds approach forest cover less than 65% and impervious-surface cover greater than 10%, stream hydrology changes and stream condition degradation becomes measurable. How will climate variability and climate change interact with anthropogenic effects in these respects?
Climate impacts on estuarine properties
- What effect will sea level rise have on physical oceanographic parameters in estuaries, especially ocean-estuary exchange rates, mixing patterns, salinity, and the tidal prism? While some work on this question has been carried out for Atlantic Coast estuaries (e.g., Hull and Titus 1986), no such work has been done in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).
- What effect will climate change have on estuarine water quality, especially salinity and temperature? Newton (1995) and Newton et al. (1997) have begun to examine the sensitivity of estuarine water quality to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) incidental to regular water quality monitoring programs carried out by the Washington State Department of Ecology. They have tentatively identified climate correlations for observed variations in temperature and salinity. However, no comprehensive review of the water quality and oceanographic monitoring data with respect to ENSO or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) has been conducted.
Climate impacts on coastal ecosystems
- What effect will estuarine water quality changes, especially salinity, temperature, and nutrients, have on primary productivity? And how will water quality and primary productivity changes affect secondary productivity?
- What effect might climate change have on the shellfish aquaculture industry due to changes in estuarine salinity, water temperature, and primary and secondary productivity? A tentative link between the PDO and the Oyster Condition Index was established for commercial oyster harvest in a portion of Willapa Bay by Feist and Simenstad (2000). Can this tentative link be extended back in time, and geographically, to other oyster growing regions of the PNW? What management measures to mitigate adverse effects might be available to the shellfish industry?
- A tentative link has been established between climate warming and the rapid expansion of Spartina sp. in Willapa Bay (Field 1997). There appears to be a consistent 32-month lag between Spartina growth spurts and sea surface temperature, but other factors (mean sea level and precipitation) may also be factors. This relationship is not known to have been examined in other areas where Spartina is spreading (e.g. Grays Harbor or Padilla Bay). Is this apparent link real, and if so, what is its importance relative to other growth factors (e.g. lack of parasites and predators compared with native conditions for the Spartina sp. at its Chesapeake Bay source)? If climate is a significant factor in the spread of Spartina, what technical, biological, and economic implications does that have for control and eradication programs?
Prospects for integrated coastal management
- In recent years in both Washington and Oregon, there has been a growing institutional movement towards resource management on a watershed basis (as compared with traditional resource management regimes based on political subdivisions). How are these watershed-centric management regimes structured, and how do the regimes in the two states compare? How do they function with respect to management of the resources and integration of state and federal resource management agency mandates? Much watershed management planning is carried out at the local government level, at least in Washington state. How is this planning and management integrated at the local level? How adaptable are these management regimes to consideration of climate variability and climate change factors?
- Broad integration of management regimes and institutions for watersheds, estuaries, and the coastal ocean is lacking. Pioneering studies in this area have been initiated by Pacific Northwest Coastal Ecosystems Regional Study and initial research on physical, ecological, and socioeconomic sectors has begun to be published (e.g. McMurray and Bailey 1998) forming a basis for focused, watershed-specific and estuary-specific planning and management. Given the present institutional regimes in Washington and Oregon, what forms of integrated management regimes would be most viable?
Scope of Work
The scope of work envisaged here is large enough to constitute a multi-year program of activities. The work could be phased to meet available funding in the following way:
- Priority 1 – Build the hydrological models for West side (of the Cascades) rivers as links to the coastal models; and start the watershed management work in partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology.
- Priority 2 – Begin forest ecosystem modeling:
- land use/vegetation change
- devise location specific policy scenarios.
- Priority 3 – Begin water quality modeling.
For publications on the CIG's research on climate and PNW coastal ecosystems, please see CIG Publications.
Booth, D. K. 2000. Forest cover, impervious-surface area, and the mitigation of urbanization impacts in King County, Washington. Unpublished paper. Center for Urban Water Resources, University of Washington, Seattle.
Feist, B. E and C. A. Simenstad. 2000. Expansion rates and recruitment frequency of exotic Smooth Cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora (Loisel), colonizing unvegetated littoral flats in Willapa Bay, Washington. Estuaries 23(2):267-274.
Field, J. 1997. Assessing coastal zone sensitivity and vulnerability to regional climate variability and change in the Pacific Northwest. Unpublished manuscript. JISAO/SMA, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
Hull, C. H. G. and J. G. Titus. 1986. Greenhouse Effect, Sea Level Rise, and Salinity in the Delaware River Estuary. US Environmental Protection Agency EPA 230-05-86-010.
McMurray, G. R. and R. J. Bailey. 1998. Change in Pacific Northwest Coastal Ecosystems. Decision Analysis Series No. 11. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coastal Ocean Office, Washington, D.C.
Newton, J. A. 1995. El Niño weather conditions reflected in Puget Sound temperatures and salinities. Puget Sound Research ’95:979-991. Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, Olympia, Washington.
Newton, J. A., S. L. Albertson, K. Nakata, and C. Clishe. 1998. Washington State marine water quality in 1996 and 1997. (Publication No. 98-338). Washington Department of Ecology, Olympia, Washington.