If you ask a scientist what they consider to be the most significant threat to the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem, more often than not they will point to climate change. The impacts will touch almost every facet of Puget Sound ecology.
Consider just a few examples: Scientists predict a decline of 44% in Puget Sound area snowpacks by 2040, and 65% by the 2080s. This change will affect the timing and quantity of runoff in most snow-fed streams and rivers, disturbing thousand-year-old patterns for salmon and other animals. Sea level is expected to rise 6″ to 50″ by 2100 in central Puget Sound, diminishing beach spawning habitat for forage fish, and causing coastal plant life to recede. Climate is even changing the chemistry of the water in Puget Sound, increasing acidification and threatening shellfish.
To measure and anticipate these effects, the Puget Sound Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership are supporting work by the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington to update the 2009 Washington Climate Change Impact Assessment, as well as key information in the document Uncertain Future: Climate Change and Its Effects on Puget Sound in 2005. This update will look specifically at the Puget Sound region, and when completed, will appear in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, along with new mapping resources for watershed analysis. The synthesis will also serve as source material for the Puget Sound Partnership’s Puget Sound Science Update. We are excited to be involved with the Climate Impacts Group in this project, and look forward to publishing what we anticipate will be an important resource for the scientific community.