Much of the below information is compiled in partnership between the NPLCC and the Northwest Climate Science Center. Many thanks to those who have provided material for this edition, particularly the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium, the Climate Impacts Group and theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change and Water News.
Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise: Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University recently published their findings on the effect of short-lived greenhouse gases on sea-level rise. Using an Earth’s Systems Model (EMIC), the study quantified global temperature and sea-level rise in response to various greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide (a long-lived greenhouse gas) were in line with previous studies, however the short-lived greenhouse gases, such as methane, exhibited a much longer impact on sea-level rise than formerly expected.
Last year's El Nino resulted in unprecedented erosion of the Pacific coastline: The El Niño-Southern Oscillation is the dominant mode of interannual climate variability across the Pacific Ocean basin, with influence on the global climate. The two end members of the cycle, El Niño and La Niña, force anomalous oceanographic conditions and coastal response along the Pacific margin, exposing many heavily populated regions to increased coastal flooding and erosion hazards. However, a quantitative record of coastal impacts is spatially limited and temporally restricted to only the most recent events. Here, researchers report on the oceanographic forcing and coastal response of the 2015–2016 El Niño, one of the strongest of the last 145 years.
Newly discovered phytoplankton groups appear to favor warmer oceans: An international team of scientists published new research on the discovery of new phytoplankton groups. Published in Current Biology, the team found high abundance of the new group of phytoplankton species in warmer, low-nutrient surface waters. These desert-like waters included the Sargasso Sea, Bay of Bengal and the North Pacific Gyre and represent projected future conditions under climate change. The team discovered these new groups through continuous year-round sampling and the construction of the Baseline Initiative, a database of over 6,000 RNA gene sequences. The study emphasized the need to better understand these groups of phytoplanktons species in order to gain a clearer picture of marine ecosystems under increased warming.
Landmark global scale study reveals potential future impact of ocean acidification: A team of scientists from Quebec and the United Kingdom analyzed metabolic behaviors in an intertidal snail (Littorina littorea) to better understand the impact of ocean acidification on a species with wide latitudinal range. The team collected snails from six different populations along the European coast that represented variation in water temperature (warm temperate, cold temperate and subpolar). They then placed the snails in a range of pH conditions and examined their metabolic responses.
New NOAA report projects possible 8 feet of sea level rise by 2100: The Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Hazard Scenarios and Tools Interagency Task Force has recently released a report updating global sea level rise projections. The authors report that new scientific literature points to an extreme upper-bound scenario of 2.5m of global mean sea level rise by 2100. This is an increase in 0.5m from the upper-bound scenario enlisted in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3) and is due to the incorporation of Greenland and Antarctica rapid ice melt. In addition to the updated global mean sea level rise projection, the report discussed regional factors that affect sea level rise along the United States coastline.
The 2014/2015 Snowpack Drought in Washington State and its Climate Forcing: The American Meteorological Society has released its 5th annual report of extreme events from the previous year. Included in the report is a section titled “The 2014/2015 Snowpack Drought in Washington State and its Climate Forcing.” Authored by Boniface Fosu and colleagues, the article discussed the “snowpack drought” of 2015, where an alteration in temperature caused a reduction in snowfall and an increase in rainfall, and consequently reduced snowpack and led to drought conditions. The authors concluded that a significant portion of the change in precipitation was due to changes in circulation patterns that were associated with the North Pacific climate variability. Specifically, the authors highlighted the North Pacific Index, a low frequency variability, as the driver for the cyclical relationship between temperature and precipitation.
Climate change prompts fish to change breeding behavior: A study led by biologists from the University of Washington examined the impact of climate change on growth and reproduction of high-latitude freshwater fish. Specifically, the study analyzed the biological and physical factors affecting Alaska’s three-spined stickleback fish using 5 decades of time series data. Their findings showed that three-spined stickleback spawned earlier in years when ice breakup occurred earlier. In some cases, this also resulted in the fish producing more than one brood.
Testing how species respond to climate change: A study recently published in Global Change Biology examined the adaptability of species to respond to climate change. Led by scientists from the University of Bristol, the research team tested the adaptability of the tropical rainforest fly, Drosophila birchii, by transplanting them in cages along mountain gradients that represent the species altitudinal limits and measuring their reproductive success. The study found that abundance was greater in cooler, high-altitude sites while species fitness was greater in warmer, low-altitude sites. There was no evidence of local adaptation as the team found very little genetic variation across gradients.
Effects of past climate change on Heermann's Gull from late Quaternary to present: Climate change during the late Quaternary period (LQP) was a major driver in the shaping of species distributions and abundances. Understanding of the effects of climate change on population dynamics of marine species in temperate zones is growing. However, studies on the demographic history of seabirds are rare, and there is no description of how regional climate change has affected high-trophic-level marine species such as Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni; Charadriiformes: Laridae). Authors of this study investigated whether the demographic history of Heermann's Gull reflects population change consistent with past changes in climate during the LQP. They also explored whether past changes affected the demographic history of codistributed marine organisms in a similar way.
A new vulnerability assessment provides insights into where the effects of future ocean acidification will likely be greatest: A recent vulnerability assessment conducted on the the California Current, an upwelling system that already experiences inherently low pH conditions, suggests that Dungeness crab fisheries, valued at about $220 million annually, may face a strong downturn over the next 50 years. Dungeness crabs will likely suffer from ocean acidification as their food sources decline. In contrast, pteropods and copepods, tiny marine organisms with shells that are vulnerable to acidification, will likely experience only a slight overall decline because they are prolific enough to offset much of the impact. Marine mammals and seabirds are less likely to be affected by ocean acidification, the study found.
Predicting Wildfire in the Western U.S. Under a Changing Climate: Although a complex process, wildfire modeling can have huge benefits for resource managers and communities who are looking to predict, prepare for, and reduce the damage caused by wildfires. A new publication, co-authored by Jeremy Littell at the Alaska CSC, examines the relationships between climate, hydrology, and wildfire – offering insight for improving the predictive power of wildfire models.
Firefighting blamed for 'megafires' ravaging US forests: So-called "megafires" are becoming increasingly common and destructive in the wildlands of the western United States. Could overzealous firefighting itself be to blame? BBC North America Correspondent, James Cook, interviews fire fighters, conservation directors, ranchers and Tom Tidwell, chief of the US Forest Service to investigate.
Tree-bark thickness indicates fire-resistance in a hotter future: A study led by scientists from Princeton University found that trees residing in fire-prone regions develop thicker bark. The authors studied 572 tree species distributed globally and measured bark thickness along with the wildfire frequency and rainfall levels of each region. They found a positive relationship between bark thickness and fire frequency, suggesting the fire-tolerance trait to be an evolutionary adaptation. The authors highlighted that trees living in regions of infrequent fires, such as tropical rainforests, may lack the ability to withstand burns, a probable consequence of increased drought in these regions due to further warming.
Evaluating Urban Resilience to Climate Change: A Multi-Sector Approach: EPA scientists and their collaborators have created an assessment tool to help cities identify climate change risks in eight different municipal sectors. The report identifies indicators of traits that may enhance or inhibit communities’ resilience to climate change, allowing decision makers to focus on planning issues that are least resilient to those impacts.
Projections of 21st century climate of the Columbia River Basin: Academic director of the Northwest Climate Science Center Philip Mote and climate scientists David Rupp from Oregon State University and John Abatzoglou from Idaho State University recently published a comprehensive report of 21st century climate projections for the Columbia River Basin. Using 35 global climate model (GCM) simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), the authors summarized projections of both temperature and precipitation changes in the Columbia River Basin. Mean annual temperature is projected to increase by 2.8 ℃ by the late 21st century with 18% more warming during summer. Projections for changes in precipitation were slightly less confident than those for temperature as not all GCMs agreed on the sign of change (positive or negative). The report, published in Climate Dynamics, additionally addressed questions regarding the seasonal and interannual variability of climate projections.
The Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report: Oregon State University scientists in the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) just released the Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report. They produced the report in response to House Bill 3543 passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2007 that, among other things, directs OCCRI to periodically "assess the state of climate change science, including biological, physical and social science, as it relates to Oregon and the likely effects of climate change on the state." Their latest assessment relies on recent published research to update previous work on climate change science and the impacts of climate disruption in Oregon, both as already seen and as projected to the mid- and late century.
Climate change to shift global pattern of mild weather: A new study from Princeton University examined the impact of climate change on the global frequency of mild weather. Led by climate scientist Karin van der Wiel, the study found that the global annual number of mild days will decrease by 10-13% by the end of the century, which is equivalent to approximately 10 days. On the regional scale, the study concluded a more varied projection of mild day frequency change. Tropical regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America were projected to exhibit the largest decline in mild days, from 15-50 less days per year. Conversely, regions in the mid-latitudes such as parts of the United States, Canada, and northern Europe were projected to gain mild weather days.