Climate Impacts Group Scientists Tapped for Expertise on West Coast Climate Fires

As multiple fires on the West Coast devastate towns and fill the air with toxic smoke, people are looking for answers. Multiple regional news outlets have relied on experts from EarthLab Member Organization Climate Impacts Group to provide clarity into the current situation and hope for the future.

Climate Change Front of Mind as Cloud of Smoke Chokes Washington Again, KING-5, Sept. 11
Fires and smoke are sometimes called the “new normal” of climate change in the Northwest. But some hope these events will be yet another wake-up call. Climate Impacts Group Director Amy Snover is quoted.

“It’s terrifying to see what’s happening,” Snover said. “It’s upsetting to see what’s happening. And the worst of it is, it’s only going to get worse until we decide we don’t want it to get worse anymore, and reduce and eliminate greenhouse emissions.”

Threat Multiplier: How Climate Change, Coronavirus and Weather are Scorching WA, Seattle Weekly, Sept. 9
Fires swept across the state and much of the west in the first full week of September. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, draws the connection between wildfire and climate change.

Gusty Winds, Hot Weather and Wildfires: Will Washington See More of This in the Future? KOMO-4, Sept. 9
For the third day in a row, relentless winds from the east and northeast helped to significantly increase the fire danger across western Washington amid mounting requests for residents to avoid starting any new fires. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, is quoted.

Multiple Wildfires Devastate Large Swaths Of Areas In Eastern Washington, NPR, Sept. 9
In Washington state, fires burned more land in a day than they normally burn in entire fire seasons. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, discussed the connection between climate change and wildfire for National Public Radio.

“Basically, climate change is loading the dice” when it comes to wildfire risk, Crystal says. “And then you get a wind event, and things are just ready to go.”

Officials Say Stay Inside: Unhealthy Air Through Wednesday, Herald, Sept. 9
Smoke from more than two dozen wildfires in central and eastern Washington, as well as some in Canada, covered north Puget Sound Monday night. Crystal Raymond, climate adaptation specialist, is quoted.

EarthLab Innovation Grant project selected as a finalist for a “Science Breakthrough of the Year” award at Falling Walls 2020

We are pleased to share that one of our inaugural Innovation Grant projects was selected as a finalist for a “Science Breakthrough of the Year” award by the Falling Walls Conference, an annual world forum for leaders across sectors and disciplines to come together to discuss pressing global challenges and answer the question, “Which are the next walls to fall in science and society?”

From Risk to Resilience: Connecting Communities to Coastal Hazards Through Interactive and Immersive Design” received an EarthLab Innovation Grant in 2019 to create more engaging, immersive and interactive tools to help tell the stories of the science, risks and realities of regional sea level rise. This project aims to capture the stories of hope and action of on-the-ground dialogue happening in states, counties, and cities that are actively working to adapt to rising seas.

The EarthLab Innovation Grants program invest in teams of University of Washington researchers, students and non-academic partners developing innovative solutions to pressing environmental challenges. The Risk to Resilience project has the spirit of “falling walls” in its DNA, from the makeup of its diverse team of experts to its goals of creating visualization tools that can help decision-makers from the smallest towns to the largest countries visualize and compare sea level rise projections through the year 2150. This tools is already being used by the WA Department of Ecology, Seattle Public Utilities, and King County.

All Falling Walls finalist projects will be reviewed by a distinguished jury and a top 10 list of finalists will be presented at the digital Winner’s Session on 8 November. Out of these 10, one Science Engagement Breakthrough of the Year 2020 will be selected by the jury and announced amongst the breakthroughs of other categories at a top-class award ceremony in front of an audience of global leaders on 9 November, the anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall.

Congratulations to the projects principal investigators Heidi Roop and Peter Neff, graduate student Paige Lavin, and their teammates from the Seattle Public Library, Seattle Public Utilities, Climate Impacts Group and Tableau!

Join our team as a Research Scientist!

The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) is hiring an entry-level research scientist to provide social science/policy research support and logistical project management support to their team. They are seeking a candidate with a social science or policy background and project management experience who can add breadth to their work and support CIG’s senior researchers on climate change adaptation projects with their federal, tribal, state and local partners. Core job responsibilities will include:

  • Research Support:  This position will be responsible for thinking critically about, and doing research to support, the application of a social science or policy lens to projects led by the CIG’s senior research scientists. There may be opportunities to work independently on social science or policy projects; and
  • Project Management:  This position will be responsible for acting as project manager, or providing other logistical support, for a variety of projects led by the CIG’s senior research scientists.

The minimum qualifications are a bachelor’s degree in public policy, psychology, sociology, economics, or a related field with a minimum of 2 years of experience. While educational attainment is valued, we also encourage applications from practitioners who have worked in government, non-profits, and consulting who can bring a practical social science orientation to the team.


How Native Tribes Are Taking the Lead on Planning for Climate Change

Swinomish tribal members from Washington state participate in a clam garden restoration in British Columbia. PHOTO COURTESY OF SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY

This article was originally published on Yale Environment 360

On a hot summer’s day, marine ecologist Courtney Greiner walks the shore of a rocky Washington beach at low tide with a handful of staff and interns. They stake out the ground and hunch down, digging up the top two inches of mud, silt, and gravel looking for baby clams.

For thousands of years, the indigenous peoples of the West Coast would build rock walls at the low tide line, allowing sand to pile up behind them, making the slope of the beach gentler, and expanding the area of the intertidal zone that clams like to call home. These simple clam gardens are effective at boosting shellfish numbers, and have long been used to improve food security for traditional peoples.

Now the Swinomish are reviving the old idea to build the first modern clam garden in the United States. Greiner, who works for the Swinomish tribe, is collecting the data that will help the tribe determine the garden’s best location. The project aims to boost clam numbers, providing both a sense of purpose for the community and additional food as other resources, like salmon, decline.

This is just part of the Swinomish’s plan to ensure the ongoing prosperity of their people in the face of a changing climate. “They were the first native community — and really one of the first communities, period — to make climate adaptation a priority,” says Meade Krosby, a conservation biologist with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group. The tribe’s climate proclamation came out in 2007, and their action plan, published in 2010, was one of the first such documents in the United States. “They’re early adopters and really innovative,” she says.

The Swinomish have already launched projects aimed at helping the community adapt to a shifting climate in the Pacific Northwest. To protect salmon runs, the tribe is working on the Skagit River to create better spawning beds and is planting trees to provide shade and reduce river temperatures. In addition, the tribe is fighting to block mining operations in the headwaters of the Skagit in British Columbia, which could impact waters downstream.

“Tribes have always been adapting to climate change — now we have to adapt even faster,” says one Navajo leader.

Another project aims to restore a healthy population of native Olympia oysters, long threatened by pollution and crowding out by competitive Pacific oysters and now impacted by ocean acidification. Workers have brought in truckloads of oyster shells and dumped them on beaches to provide new homes for imported natives; the imports grow well, says Greiner, but so far have yet to produce a next generation of shellfish. “It’s a learning process,” she says. A site for the first clam garden should be chosen by next year. And a wetlands project is documenting the local plants that have ecological and cultural importance to the Swinomish, as part of efforts to better manage the changing coast for salmon and farmers alike.

Across North America, other indigenous communities are stepping up to formulate and enact climate action plans to protect their way of life. In 2019, the Karuk tribe of northern California released its climate adaptation plan with a recommendation to return to prescribed burning, an old idea that might help to ease California’s wildfire problems. The Tulalip tribes of Washington state are relocating nuisance beavers from urban areas back to traditional watersheds to help lower river temperatures and aid salmon populations; they are also redirecting agricultural runoff for electricity generation. The Jamestown S’Klallam tribe in Washington is removing invasive butterfly bushes from the banks of the Dungeness River to help protect its salmon. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana are gathering and planting seedlings of the whitebark pine that are more resistant to warming-related diseases such as blister rust. Alaskan tribes are using microscopy to identify harmful algae blooms spurred by warming waters. The list goes on.

“Indigenous peoples have always been on the front lines,” says Nikki Cooley, who grew up without electricity or running water on the Navajo Nation reservation and now co-manages the Tribes and Climate Change Program for the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Tribes have always been adapting to climate change. Now we have to adapt even faster.”

Tribal program manager Mike Durglo Jr. examines what remains of a 2,000-year-old whitebark pine on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, where trees are dying from warming-related diseases. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

As Krosby puts it, indigenous peoples “have unique connections to the land and are feeling impacts the earliest and most severely.” One study found that coastal indigenous communities eat 15 times as much seafood as non-indigenous people in the same country — food that is being heavily impacted by everything from pollution to warming waters and ocean acidification. In the far north, buildings are collapsing and indigenous communities relocating as permafrost thaws, and traditional practices like reindeer herding are being threatened as winter snow changes to freezing rain, which locks up winter forage like lichens under ice.

“It’s happening all over the world,” says Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish tribal community. “I have seen an elder standing on their cemetery in [the Pacific island nation of] Tuvalu and it was covered with water — they can’t bury their people there anymore.”

These are communities that have relied on the land for generations, building an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles of plants, animals, and weather. Unlike the traditional Western worldview that humanity can and should seek dominion over the environment, indigenous populations tend to view humanity as part of an interconnected whole. “We knew if we impacted one part of the web, the whole thing could fall apart,” says Cladoosby.

Adds Cooley, “We put our non-human relatives first, meaning the trees, the sky, the water. We don’t treat them as objects to be studied in a lab. We revere them.”

Indigenous communities tend to think many generations ahead when planning how to utilize resources.

Indigenous communities also tend to think many generations ahead when planning how to utilize resources — a lot further than a U.S. presidential cycle allows. “America can’t even think past 4 years,” says Don Sampson, Umatilla Tribe member and head of the climate change project for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), a 57-tribe consortium. “It’s a short-sighted country.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent reports have acknowledged with “high confidence” that adaptation efforts benefit from the inclusion of local and indigenous knowledge. “One of the things that comes across really clearly is the fact that indigenous peoples are by far the most effective stewards of biodiversity,” says Krosby. “They do the best job.” One study showed, for example, that deforestation rates across the Amazon were two to three times lower in indigenous-held lands. According to the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, indigenous peoples hold or manage a disproportionate amount of formally protected areas and areas with low human impact: these groups occupy 28 percent of the planet’s land, but more than 40 percent of protected areas. In Canada, the government funded an Indigenous Guardians program in 2017, recognizing that First Nations communities are well placed to serve as stewards of the land.

Cooley estimates that ITEP has worked with representatives of some 300 of the 574 tribes in the United States and that there are now more than 50 tribal climate action plans in effect. “In the past five years, tribal climate action plans have exploded,” she says. Sampson’s goal is to ramp that up to 100 percent within five years: “We have to accelerate the ability and capacity of the tribes; we want all tribes to identify the impacts and have a plan for that.”

Sampson also notes that many tribes are making huge strides on energy independence, weaning themselves off fossil fuels to protect both the environment and their economic future: the Navajo nation, for example, long reliant on coal, has made big investments in solar power.

The Swinomish tribe makes its home in western Washington, on an island carved out by the narrow Swinomish Channel. The land is low and at risk from sea level rise: A five-foot increase this century — at the high-end of sea level rise estimates — could swamp more than 1,100 acres of the 10,000 acre reservation, including all its agricultural lands. Part of the Swinomish territory is particularly sacred as a fishing and shellfish gathering spot, says Cladoosby. “One year, just a normal tide, not a storm surge, covered up that area,” he recalls. “That had never happened before. It was eye opening for us.”

About half of the reservation’s acreage is forested, and so is at risk from wildfire, especially in a hotter, drier climate. The tribe has just over 1,000 members, many of them relying on “first foods” — from shellfish to deer — for their welfare. The surrounding Salish Sea has seen salmon populations crash mysteriously over the past 30 years; the impacts of climate change — including reduced stream flows and warmer stream temperatures — have been cited as one culprit. Dungeness crab and shellfish larvae are in some places literally dissolving from ocean acidification.

For many indigenous groups, environmental health and human health are deeply intertwined.

In the Skagit River Basin, a shift from snowfall to rain in the surrounding mountains is projected to boost winter river flow but reduce summer flow, drying up tributaries and making waters warmer just as salmon spawn in late summer and fall. “When there’s no water for the salmon to return to, that’s a serious problem,” says Cladoosby.

“There’ve been times I’ve been really negative looking forward,” says Joseph Williams, a Swinomish tribal senator with five children. “Things are looking pretty bleak, especially for our salmon.” But these projects, he says, are proving inspirational to the next generation, helping to bring people together. “As long as we keep our kids excited about taking care of our environment, things remain optimistic,” he says.

For the Swinomish, as for many indigenous groups, it makes little sense to talk about environmental health and human health separately; they are deeply intertwined, with community cohesion and traditional food security being equally vital. Resilience to sea level rise doesn’t just mean managing wetlands, but also combating feelings of despair. Work led by the Swinomish tribe’s environmental health analyst Jamie Donatuto and tribal historic preservation officer Larry Campbell has created a set of health indicators based on these cultural values. They hope this approach will help researchers across the world think beyond simple morbidity and mortality as the only important measures of welfare.

Such work is often done in collaboration with non-indigenous scientists and governments. The University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group last year released a Tribal Climate Tool, developed in close partnership with relevant tribes, that highlights specific climate impacts expected in local regions — from the number of hot summer days to inches of rainfall expected in coming decades — so tribes can see what they are facing and make decisions about how to adapt.

Swinomish fisheries managers and scientists collect data on how ocean acidification is impacting oyster and clam development. PHOTO COURTESY OF SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY

A number of such organizations are pushing this work forward in collaboration with local tribes, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers; Krosby is deputy director for the northwest division. And there’s the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Network, based at the University of Oregon, which partners with Sampson’s division at the ATNI. In October, ATNI’s climate summit in Seattle is expected to attract tribal leaders from across North America, as they work on a national tribal climate crisis agenda for 2020 and beyond. “It’s a revolution that’s happening,” says Sampson. “Watch the tribes: they are going to lead us.”

For Cladoosby, part of that revolution involves re-awakening traditional connections to the land, which have eroded in recent centuries. “Part of the assimilation policy was taking stewardship of the environment out of our hands,” he says, leaving many communities locked in a cycle of trauma and cultural loss, along with drug and alcohol abuse. “Part of breaking that cycle is getting back that respect for the environment.”

“Right now, we are taking baby steps,” says Cladoosby. The Swinomish are still collecting data, securing treaty rights, educating their own people and others, he says. Alongside efforts to adapt and ensure resilience in the face of local change, political activism is also a big part of the picture as it can prevent some development and ensure that tribes maintain control over their lands. He acknowledges it will take time to establish long-term sustainable solutions. “We live in a pollution-based economy; it is based on making money and polluting the landscape,” Cladoosby says. “Trying to change that mindset is like trying to turn a tanker. It doesn’t happen over night.”

Climate Impacts Group summarizes Washington climate impact on water

This article was originally published in Seattle Weekly.

Sound Publishing file photo
High tides, as seen in this file photo of Raymond’s Willapa Landing Park in Pacific County, could become the norm in the future due to sea level rise.

Climate change is affecting water systems in Washington, and with nearly 70 percent of the state’s population living near the coastline, it will likely affect life in the state in the coming decades.

A new summary published by the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group consolidated a September report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and localized it for the state. It illustrated how the state could be swept up in global changes to both oceans and the cryosphere, or Earth’s frozen regions. These places include glaciers on the Cascades and Olympics, as well as seasonal snowfall.

About 10 percent of the planet’s land is covered by glaciers or ice sheets, which coupled with permanent snow, contains roughly 70 percent of all freshwater on Earth. Some 1.35 billion people live in low-lying coastal areas or high-mountain regions, both of which are affected by either oceans or ice.

In the U.S., 42 percent of people live along the coasts, and in Washington, that percentage jumps to nearly 70.

As the planet’s average temperature has risen by about 1.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, the oceans have absorbed much of the heat. This has led to sea levels rising by roughly 6 inches between 1902 and 2015. Ice sheets at the poles have also retreated quickly, and nearly half of all coastal wetlands have been destroyed over the last 100 years, according to the report.

Coastal ecosystems are expected to keep warming, making marine heat waves that harm water quality, fish and other animals more common.

In Washington state between 2014 and 2016, the “blob” of unusually warm water off the West Coast resulted in seabird and marine mammal die-offs, according to the report. Sea surface temperatures were much warmer than average. Also in 2015, a drought led to 17 major crops experiencing reduced yields from limited water.

By 2040, it’s expected that sea surface temperature off Washington’s coasts will increase by about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the 1970-1999 average. This will make dangerous algae blooms more likely.

Glaciers in the North Cascades also decreased by more than half between 1900 and 2009, which could increase water scarcity for crops. Average statewide snowpack is projected to decline under current emissions projections by up to 70 percent by the 2080s. More precipitation in the winter will likely fall as rain, increasing winter flood risks.

The report noted that the Paris Climate Agreement set a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or about 2.7 Fahrenheit. Greenhouse gas emissions must be dramatically lowered to hit that target. Globally, the report said there needs to be a more than 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to hit the target.


How climate change could impact the beer you drink

This story originally appeared on King 5.

Climate change may threaten one of our nation’s favorite fizzy beverages: beer.

Rising temperatures across the world could impact some of the key ingredients in beer, including hops. Hops are flowers that are used to flavor beers. The flowers are a cousin of cannabis but with no THC.

The Yakima Valley in eastern Washington is the largest producer of hops around the world, and it requires a lot of irrigation to grow. But climate change could dry up that critical water and impact the beer you drink.

Scientists at the University of Washington said over the next 80 years, the Pacific Northwest will see warmer winters. This means much of the winter snowfall in the mountains will become rain and dramatically decrease the snowpack that provides that water. Researchers at UW said while snowpack levels tend to fluctuate substantially from year-to-year, spring snowpack has declined 30% on average between 1955 and 2016.

Predicted April 1 snow water equivalent in the 2020s.
Predicted April 1 snow water equivalent in the 2040s.
Predicted April 1 snow water equivalent in the 2080s.








Reductions in snowpack and glacier retreat across Washington’s mountains are projected to affect water resources and irrigated agriculture. Researchers estimate snowpack could drop by 29% in our current decade, 44% in the 2040s, and 65% in the 2080s.

That snowpack is important because in the summer months, when Washington sees little or no rain, it provides water to irrigate farms including hops. Even though there will be rain, snowpack melt is needed in order to meet the summer agricultural needs for the region to keep up with the demand for hops.

Anticipating this change, hops producers are already developing growing and processing methods that use significantly less water so the beer you drink today will still be around tomorrow.


UW, Tableau create interactive tool to explore more than a century of Pacific Northwest weather observations

This figure shows average annual temperatures measured from 1894 to 2017 at Seattle (red); Boise, Idaho (green); Vancouver, Washington (blue); and Helena, Montana (yellow).

The University of Washington’s College of the Environment has teamed up with Seattle visual analytics company Tableau Software to create a new, interactive visualization for historical observations of temperature and precipitation in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana, and for Washington snowpack.

The free online tool lets anybody interact with the records going back as far as 1881 and look for significant trends.

“This tool lets anyone, from researchers to meteorologists to members of the public, look at the actual data to motivate why we should care about our climate changing, and see how it is changing in our own backyard,” said project lead Karin Bumbaco, the assistant state climatologist for Washington.

The tool uses Tableau’s interactive visual analytics platform to select one or several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stations in the Pacific Northwest, plot the trend and play around with time periods, seasons and other variables.

“You have to have people explore historical climate in order to understand the context of future climate,” said Heidi Roop, lead scientist for science communication at the Climate Impacts Group. “We hope Tableau visualizations like these will become go-to resources for engagement and exploration of climate data in our region.”

From skiing to salmon runs, the national climate report predicts a Northwest in peril

Wildfire smoke blankets Seattle in this scene from August of this year. Photo: Bettina Hansen, The Seattle Times

Climate change’s effects – among them, increasing wildfires, disease outbreak and drought – are taking a toll on the Northwest, and what’s to come will threaten and transform our way of life from the salmon streams to ski slopes, according to a new federal climate assessment released Friday.

The 1,000-plus-page report, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is the most comprehensive evaluation to date of climate change’s effects on the nation’s economy, human health, agriculture and environment. Thirteen federal agencies contributed to the report, which was required to be published by Congress.

New resources support tribes in preparing for climate change

Which Pacific Northwest streams will warm the most in the next 50 years, and where would restoration work make a difference for salmon? Where will wildfires and pests be most aggressive in forests as the Earth warms, and how can better management help?

As the natural world responds to climate change, American Indian tribes across the country are grappling with how to plan for a future that balances inevitable change with protecting the resources vital to their cultural traditions.

The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and regional tribal partners have developed a collection of resources that may be useful to tribes at any stage in the process of evaluating their vulnerability to climate change. The project is a partnership among tribes, tribal associations, universities and the federal government.

“This work really is to support tribes’ leadership in climate adaptation, and the goal is to make it easier for every tribe that wants to complete the process,” said Meade Krosby, a research scientist at Climate Impacts Group and the project lead. “This is a way to support the tribes that are leading the way, but also to make sure those that are having a harder time getting started have the resources to begin.”

Sea-level rise report contains best projections yet for Washington’s coasts

One certainty under climate change is that global ocean levels are rising. A new report led by Washington Sea Grant and the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group provides the clearest picture yet of what to expect in Washington state.

The report includes projections for more than 150 different sites along the Washington coastline, from all marine shorelines in Washington state. It incorporates the unique geology-driven land motion, with uplift at Neah Bay and sinking in Seattle. And it provides the latest, probabilistic estimates to let planners weigh the risks of different scenarios.

The projections, posted online July 30, include an embedded Google map where anyone who is involved with planning projects along the coast can download estimates for their location.

“One of the things we’ve heard from the planners we have shown it to so far is ‘Hey, for the first time we have something that we feel is actionable,’” said first author Ian Miller, a coastal hazards specialist at Washington Sea Grant. “I hope we’re going to hear that more, and that these projections will find their way into planning processes at the community scale.”