Report: Climate change already apparent in Pacific Northwest

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From changes in stream flows to acidifying oceans and widespread forest die-offs, the Pacific Northwest is already experiencing signs of a changing climate, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of impacts in the United States.

The third National Climate Assessment, released Tuesday, warns that no part of the country is immune, and that the effects of climate change will become increasingly disruptive in the coming decades.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says. “Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of our recent experience.”

The national assessment is mandated by Congress and published roughly every four years. But this marks the first time it has zeroed in on local impacts, with sections on nine geographic regions, including the Northwest.

A March Gallup Poll found most Americans are convinced the climate is changing, but only about one in three considers those changes a serious threat to their way of life.

Unlike many parts of the country, the effects of climate change in the Pacific Northwest have been well studied for nearly two decades.

But the new report reflects additional data and analysis, said Amy Snover, co-director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington and a lead author of the regional section.

“In this case, we really tried to look at ... the major changes that will have the most widespread consequences for people, the economy, the environment and our infrastructure,” she said.

The three issues that rose to the top were shifting precipitation, effects on the region’s forests, and coastal impacts — from sea-level rise to the increasing corrosivity of ocean water caused by dissolved carbon dioxide.

Since 1950, average spring snowpack in the Cascades has declined about 20 percent, said co-author Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.

By 2050, the annual snowmelt is expected to occur three to four weeks earlier, while summer stream flows in much of the region are forecast to drop significantly.

That’s going to cause problems for salmon, power supplies and farmers, Mote pointed out. “All of the demands come to a head in late summer, when the water supply is lowest.”

While average, global sea levels have risen about 8 inches over the past century, the Northwest has been buffered, thanks to its geologic setting. The offshore collision of tectonic plates has been pushing the coastline up for the past 314 years — since the last Cascadia megaquake and tsunami.

When the next quake strikes, the coast will drop as much as 6 feet in an instant. But even if the quake doesn’t occur before the end of this century, computer models predict sea levels along the coast will still rise about 2 feet, due to melting glaciers and ice fields, and the expansion of seawater as it gets warmer.

Portions of Seattle’s waterfront will be underwater at high tide if sea levels rise by 13 inches — and some models project increases of as much as 50 inches.

The forests for which the Northwest is famed are also in for big changes.

Warmer and drier conditions are already blamed for insect infestations and an increase in the number and ferocity of wildfires across the West since the 1970s.

By 2080, the amount of forestland that burns every year in the Northwest is expected to quadruple, to 2 million acres.

“We already have seen tremendous die-offs from insect damage and fire, and over time it’s just going to increase and lead to really dramatic changes in our forest landscape,” Snover said.

But she and her colleagues found less to worry about when it comes to Northwest agriculture. In some cases, climate change will lead to longer growing seasons, Mote said. And even though water might be in shorter supply, farmers should be able to adapt and plan for the changes.

Since the first national assessment, governments, businesses and tribes in the Northwest have taken the threat seriously, Snover said.

Seattle is factoring climate change into its estimates of electrical supply. Bellingham has taken sea-level rise into account in plans for port redevelopment.

Mote, a veteran of many climate studies, was at the White House on Tuesday.

“In some ways, this is stuff that we’ve known for 20 years,” he said. “We still have a lot of opportunities to both reduce emissions and reduce impacts, but the clock is ticking.”

Nationwide, average temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, with another 2- to 4-degree increase expected before the end of the century. The past decade was the hottest on record in the U.S., and 2012 was the hottest year. Across much of the country, the warming has led to more intense rainstorms, fewer cold snaps, prolonged allergy seasons, and shifts in bird migrations and the types of plants that grow in gardens, says the report, which was written by more than 250 experts and reviewed by the National Academy of Science.

Winter storms have grown in frequency and intensity and have shifted northward since the 1950s, it says.

“Taken together, the evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity,” the report says.

Release of the report gives President Obama an opportunity to ground his campaign against climate change in science and numbers, endeavoring to blunt the arguments of those who question the idea and human contributions to such changes.

Some fossil-energy groups, conservative think tanks and Republican senators immediately assailed the report as “alarmist.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama was likely to “use the platform to renew his call for a national energy tax. And I’m sure he’ll get loud cheers from liberal elites — from the kind of people who leave a giant carbon footprint and then lecture everybody else about low-flow toilets.”

The state-by-state, region-by-region impacts could help move the climate-change debate forward, White House officials said in a conference call. Calling it “actionable science,” White House adviser John Podesta said the report would give people information on observed climate changes in their parts of the nation.

Comments

thrifty 3 months, 3 weeks ago

We are very fortunate that our current governor and the University of Washington are watching out for us and the polar bears.

Maybe they could devote a little attention to solving some of the significant problems we have in Syria and with Russia. It seems that they devote much of their time trying to distract us from important issues and attempt to direct our attention toward items of questionable significance.

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PearlY 3 months, 3 weeks ago

You could read the headline and most of this article and assume that this is the first time in the Earth's history that the climate has ever changed when, in reality, the climate has changed all the time. Overall, I'd rather be looking at a relatively minor degree of warming coming down the pike, than a mini-(much less maxi-)Ice Age as some of our ancestors faced.

Of course, this is the first time in the Earth's history that political and economic elites could use climate change as a means of extracting more power and wealth from the general population than ever before.

As for me, my carbon footprint has always been low for reasons of frugality (I could certainly teach Al Gore a few lessons), but I'll be darned if I pay tribute or Danesgeld to power-hungry politicians in the name of "climate change."

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goldlizard 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Stay asleep people and don't check the real facts... There is a multi-billion dollar business here and they are running a great con job on America. SMH

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Igor 3 months, 3 weeks ago

People that have bought into all the climate change hype need to read the John R. Christy article that appeared in the March 23 issue of the U.B. Though the temperature has risen a fraction of a degree since thermometers were available to measure, it has not risen one iota in the past 17 years despite the predictions of those on the left. Their predictions were all based on tortured data and computer models which obviously were deeply flawed.

The temperature of the world has risen and fallen over the past several hundred years, way before we started dumping massive amounts of C02 into the atmosphere. We know this from oxygen isotopes entrenched in the polar ice caps. The Middle Ages, when it was the warmest, was a time of great prosperity for mankind. People were even cultivating crops in Greenland. If the planet has warmed a bit in the last hundred years, there's no evidence that the warming was man caused or, if it was, that we can do anything about it.

The left likes trot out the Michael "Climategate" Mann hockey stick graph to support its position on the issue. That graph was based partially on "pre-thermometer" estimates of temperature, which have been severely discredited by all variety of scientists. But one dares not speak the truth in this regard without risking litigation. A frightening but also entertaining article on Mann's lawsuit against the National Review appears in the May 5 issue of that magazine. Apparently one can no longer question the "settled science" of those on the left without risking civil action.

First Amendment? What First Amendment? We don't need no stinking First Amendment! Disagree with the left on just about anything and they'll do what they always do, namely, resort to the courts. If you can't push your agenda though Congress then you sue. Or, at least, that's the way it was before Obama. Now all you have to do is simply request an illegal executive order. Much more efficient.

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dogman12 3 months, 3 weeks ago

thrifty, pearl, lizard, igor: I've got some property at current sea level on the Oregon coast. Want to buy it?

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barracuda 3 months, 2 weeks ago

In all seriousness, If you do have property as I am in the market. I will be in Seaside/Canon Beach/Manzinita this next month meeting with a real estate agent..... The Properties are really expensive, I should have bought in 95 when I first looked into it.

I am not to worried about being swallowed up.

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dogman12 3 months, 2 weeks ago

OK, good luck. I was just being rhetorical.

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GeneandCassie 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Of course, 'sea level' at one time was perhaps three hundred (300) lower vertically than at present.....

Change is constantly going on......

Wasn't the Missoula floods caused by the 'melting of ice?????'

Sounds like even back then things were getting 'warmer.....'

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goldlizard 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Not paying attention to the real statistics and the real numbers makes me think that your property must be under sea level dogman12... Jesh!

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dogman12 3 months, 2 weeks ago

The question was, will you buy coastal property now?

Whether we agree or not on the role of emissions from civilization in climate change, there remains the question of how to prepare and adapt. Yes, change is constantly going on...

Here in Walla Walla, we can expect less retained snowpack, more flash runoffs from December through March, lower streamflows in summer, and thus lower water levels in the shallow gravel aquifer. Longer hot spells will affect various crops, including grapes. Most of the food we consume comes from areas that will incur increased costs and decreased yields, thus it will cost more.

There are more impacts, but just for the ones listed there is implied a ton of preparation and adaption work. The profitability of local businesses and the cost of public services will see pressure. Failure to prepare and adapt will erode our standard of living.

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GeneandCassie 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Probably not a good idea to ever buy property adjacent to a known 'interface' such as between water and land; in the middle of Tornado Alley; etc.....

Too many uncertainties to live with..... storm surges at the ocean, flood times along rivers (1996 Walla Walla for example),.....

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thrifty 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I have been around long enough to hear about offers to sell bridges but the ocean front property is a first. Guess everyone should expect change. Kind of like how the news media reports the weather. First it is the coldest we have ever seen with massive amounts of snow and soon I suspect we will be hearing about record hot. Maybe you can recall from history the concerns about the world being flat- until it wasn't. That is the difference between a "scientific consensus" and a "scientific fact." However, if you insist upon believing everything in print then I might have a bridge for sale.

Here in Walla Walla we can expect years with more retained snowpack and years when we have less retained snowpack. If you look through the UB's pictures you will see some of water running down what appears to be every street in Walla Walla. I believe the year was 1931 probably before the current channel was built to handle excess run off when we have a large snowpack and encounter a Chinook. I can remember one year (recently) when there was no snow and the next year there was so much snow we never thought it would all melt.

With regard to your thoughts on crops. Last year the US had a record corn crop and prices declined because the users had available more than they needed. Several years ago the US had a very poor crop and prices increases because users had available less than they needed. Cost of production should have a lot to do with price but in the case of commodities that is not always the case.

My point is that the weather isn't the same every year. It has been that way for a long time and probably will continue long into the future. That is probably why the terminology is now "Climate Change" instead of "Global Warming." It is a lot easier to defend and it makes the evening news more interesting to watch.

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dogman12 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Since even the position of a molecule is subject to uncertainty, the popular notion of what constitutes a "fact" is basically misdirected. There are no certain facts. The significant probability is, that the atmosphere and climate of north america in the next 20 years will have more warm spells in the winter, more extreme events, longer hot spells in the summer and areas of extended drought. Smart money will hedge that way.

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namvet60 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Can we just go back to the verbiage that Mother Nature makes up her own mind?

It is also a well known fact that a woman has the option to change her mind at any given time. If you don't believe me just ask my wife.

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namvet60 3 months, 2 weeks ago

This seems to put some of the global ice age and polar bears back to breathing better:

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2014/05/12/Antarctic-Sea-Ice-at-All-Time-Record-Levels

Maybe Al Gore can go and cube some of this and fix him a nice big cocktail to help him spend his ill gotten gains?

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