Scientists examine the ‘time of emergence’ for climate change in Puget Sound

Mean sea level trend in Seattle, WA (1898-2006). A rising sevel trend of 2.06 mm/yr (0.68 feet per100 years) was observed at a station in the Seattle, WA area. (NOAA. 2012).

Mean sea level trend in Seattle, WA (1898-2006). A rising sevel trend of 2.06 mm/yr (0.68 feet per100 years) was observed at a station in the Seattle, WA area. (NOAA. 2012).

Climate change, like politics, is local. “At least that is how you have to look at the impacts,” says Encyclopedia of Puget Sound topic editor Amy Snover. Snover is the Director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington and has been conducting research on the expected ‘time of emergence’ for climate change in the Puget Sound region.

Time of emergence refers to the point at which the effects of climate change emerge from the background noise and become evident and clear. By now, many of the projections for global temperature and sea level rise are familar. But when—and how—will we start experiencing them? Or has that time already come?

In a recent talk at the University of Washington Tacoma, Snover made the point that understanding global temperature averages, while important as a general driver of the system, aren’t that helpful when planning for the impacts in Puget Sound. Consider sea level rise, she says. Sea level rise in Seattle is expected to vary from 7 inches to 56 inches over the next 50 to 100 years, depending on who you talk to and where you are located. And that is within a single city. The complexity of the shoreline and any number of other factors make a single prediction for Puget Sound impractical, and for the most part impossible.

Meanwhile, planners and scientists are being asked to consider climate change in their research and their decisions. How can this be done in a meaningful way?

Snover has been developing a tool that might help. She and her team have been analyzing existing data and climate change projections for Puget Sound and placing them a in a decision context. This work is being supported through a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, and some of it will eventually appear on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. The tool will help planners calculate factors like risk tolerance and vulnerability as they make decision about how to respond.

In this sense, time of emergence is context-specific. A federal agency managing an endangered species will likely tolerate less risk than a group of engineers building a dock, for example. If changing conditions could cause a species to die out while engineers could just make their dock higher, the time of emergence—in other words, the time of serious impact—would be sooner for the species.

It’s a new approach to one of the world’s most pressing issues. The concept was first developed by researchers looking at global systems, but Snover’s work in Puget Sound is the first time this approach has been taken at the local ecosystem level. The tool is still fairly coarse and imprecise, she says, but she hopes that it can eventually be used to identify priority areas for more detailed analysis to support climate risk reduction.

Additional resources:

Related story: Sea level rise could release toxics into Puget Sound

Climate change impacts and adaptations in Washington State 

Climate change impacts on water management in the Puget Sound region

King County environmental impacts of climate change

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Nature inspires new approach to flood control

Aerial photo of Hansen Creek restoration site in Skagit County, WA. October 15, 2010. Photo: Kari Neumeyer/NWIFC

Aerial photo of Hansen Creek restoration site in Skagit County, WA. October 15, 2010. Photo: Kari Neumeyer/NWIFC

Every year, winter rains bring the threat of millions of dollars in property damage, or even the loss of life, from floods. Rivers have historically been channeled and tamed to protect towns and farms in low-lying floodplains, but research shows that this approach may actually be making flooding worse while at the same time threatening Puget Sound’s salmon. At Hansen Creek in the Skagit Valley, scientists say nature is the best engineer. Read Eric Wagner’s story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound’s Salish Sea Currents series. 

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New research identifies ‘time of emergence’ of climate change impacts in Puget Sound

When can we expect to see the full impacts of climate change in Puget Sound, and what will those be? UW Climate Impacts Group Director Amy Snover will present new research in a talk tomorrow (November 19th) at the University of Washington Tacoma. Her presentation is from 2-3:30 at the UWT Research Commons, 3rd Floor Tioga Library Building (TLB) 1907 Jefferson Ave, Tacoma.

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PSI is hiring a research scientist

The Puget Sound Insti­tute is seek­ing a highly-motivated full-time research sci­en­tist to ana­lyze and syn­the­size, and help design a com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan for, the results of 30–35 research projects con­ducted over the last 4 years focused on recov­ery and pro­tec­tion of the nearshore and marine envi­ron­ments of Puget Sound. This is an 8-month project, and we are seek­ing a PhD-level indi­vid­ual with a back­ground in aquatic ecol­ogy, and con­nect­ing sci­ence to pol­icy; famil­iar­ity with the Puget Sound region is a plus. This is a real oppor­tu­nity to con­nect results from funded research to pol­icy, or imple­men­ta­tion activ­i­ties, in sup­port of ecosys­tem recovery. Continue reading

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Brighter future for salmon at downtown seawall

Juvenile salmon at the Seattle Aquarium. Photo: kamikaze.spoon https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamikazespoon/264239056

Juvenile salmon at the Seattle Aquarium. Photo: kamikaze.spoon https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamikazespoon/264239056

The decaying seawall along Seattle’s waterfront is providing scientists with an opportunity to improve long-lost habitat for migrating salmon. It could also show the way for habitat enhancements to crumbling infrastructure worldwide. One University of Washington researcher describes the project.

Read more about the Seattle seawall in Salish Sea Currents.

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Forum looks at risks to Cherry Point

Announcement reprinted from Resources for Sustainable Communities

Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Forum: A Report to the Community

Saturday, October 25th
9:30am – 3:00 0pm
Bellingham Technical College (map)
Building G, Room 102A/103B

Attend this Forum to learn about the risks posed to the Salish Sea by projected increases in vessel and rail transportation, and learn about Cherry Point herring and their role in the ecosystem. Sessions include experts speaking on Vessel and Railway Risk Assessment, Cherry Point as an Aquatic Reserve, and Forage Fish and Cherry Point herring. The forum is sponsored by the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee. Learn more about the committee here.

PSI’s Tessa Francis will deliver the talk on Cherry Point’s herring population. Click here to read about the full group of presenters. View information about other talks and forums in the series. 
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Science Panel: Are Puget Sound recovery efforts working?

The Puget Sound Science Panel will discuss the state of effectiveness monitoring in Puget Sound at its October 16th meeting in Edmonds. Also on the agenda are updates to new biophysical and human wellbeing indicators of Puget Sound health.

The meeting will be held from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Center Conference Room
at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. The meeting is immediately followed by the science panel’s speaker series from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Edmonds Community College. Puget Sound Institute Director Joel Baker will give a talk about the global impacts of microplastics. He will be followed by NOAA Fisheries Science and Research Director John Stein, who will looks at some of the ways that science informs fisheries policy.

Download the meeting agenda and related documents.

 

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Citizens now the leading cause of toxics in Puget Sound

Stormwater flowing into catch basin carries contaminants to our waterways. Photo: Ben McLeod (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Stormwater flowing into catch basin carries contaminants to our waterways. Photo: Ben McLeod (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The latest issue of Salish Sea Currents reports that some of the greatest dangers to Puget Sound come from our common, everyday activities. These pervasive sources of pollution are so woven into our lives that they are almost invisible to us, but it’s becoming impossible to ignore their effects.

Read the article in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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No salmon left behind: The importance of early growth and freshwater restoration

Nisqually Reserve Fish Sampling March 2012. Photo: Michael Grilliot, DNR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nisqually Reserve Fish Sampling March 2012. Photo: Michael Grilliot, DNR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Traditionally, salmon restoration has focused heavily on spawning habitat in streams and rivers, but scientists say that may no longer be enough. New research presented at the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference suggests that conserving and increasing high-quality habitat for juvenile salmon could be just as vital. Read the article by Emily Davis in the Salish Sea Currents series. 

 

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