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What Climate Change Means For Northwest’s Rivers, Coasts and Forests

Nov. 4, 2013 | OPB
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Amelia Templeton


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  • A Puget Sound oyster. A new report issued Nov. 4, 2013 identifies oysters as one of many species affected by climate change. Oysters' ability to grow strong shells is compromised by increasingly acidifying waters that result from carbon emissions. credit: Katie Campbell
A Puget Sound oyster. A new report issued Nov. 4, 2013 identifies oysters as one of many species affected by climate change. Oysters' ability to grow strong shells is compromised by increasingly acidifying waters that result from carbon emissions. | credit: Katie Campbell | rollover image for more

Northwest residents from Idaho farmers to Puget Sound tribes will be impacted by climate change, according to a new report written by scientists at Oregon State University and the University of Washington.

The report was issued Monday. It’s based on models that predict average temperatures in the Northwest will rise over the next fifty years.

Philip Mote with Oregon State University was one of the lead authors. He says the report’s goal was to look at the possible impacts of climate change and figure out which pose the greatest risks in the Northwest. The authors identified three.

The first of those impacts: the risk connected with the region’s dependence on summer water supplies that originate as snowmelt, Mote said. Reduced snowpack levels and summer flows in rivers like the Columbia could limit water for salmon and farmers and reduce the amount of power generated by the region’s dams.

The second category of risk noted by the report: the coastlines — especially structures built there, private property, and natural places.

Sea levels are projected to rise as much as four feet in the next century on some sections of coastline, Mote said. And increasing acidification in the ocean will make it harder for species like oysters and mussels to grow shells.

The third major risk the authors identified is risk to forests from more frequent wildfires and bug infestations.

One key new conclusion is that climate change could hit tribes in the Northwest hard because of the importance of tribal fisheries.

Paul Williams studies ocean acidification for the Suquamish Tribe in Washington. He also contributed to the report. Williams said more research is needed in order to predict how marine species will respond to climate change.

“If you want to ask are the crabs going to disappear going to disappear in Puget Sound, that’s hard to be very specific,” Williams said. “What’s very clear is that we’ve changed the fundamental chemistry of the ocean.”

The report is being published as part of a national assessment that’s meant to keep Congress updated on the latest climate science.

Congress is supposed to receive the latest National Climate Impact Assessment in April next year.

The report was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the Oregon Legislature’s support of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, and by in-kind contributions from the authors’ institutions.

© 2013 OPB
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