Report eyes Pacific Northwest climate change threats

Marine sanctuaries try to prepare for rising sea level, ocean acidification and more extreme weather

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A new report identifies anticipated climate change impacts to the Olympic Peninsula. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Managers of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary say they’ll use a new report to try and prepare the resources they steward for the coming impacts of climate change, including increases in sea level; extreme weather events such as winds, waves, and storms; and coastal erosion from those events.

The report also says the region may experience an increase in ocean acidity, rising water temperature, as well as more extreme weather patterns, including Pacific Northwest regional rainfall increases triggering 100-year magnitude floods.

“Climate change poses an increasingly grave threat to the health of the ocean, and its impacts will be felt in marine protected areas like the Olympic Coast sanctuary,” said  sanctuary superintendent Carol Bernthal. “This report begins our work to develop management strategies that will help us anticipate potential challenges and adapt to the changing marine environment through sound science, public outreach, and partnerships.”

Essentially, the report gives managers at least some idea of what to expect and some ideas for how to prepare and adapt, though the long-term impacts are still unclear.

Specifically, the findings include:

  • A projected sea level rise of about three feet by 2100,
  • The Pacific storm track migrating farther north along the coast,
  • Ocean water in the coastal zone warming by 1.2 degrees Celsius,
  • More corrosive water in shallow water by 2050
  • Less oxygen in upper ocean layers
  • Changes to regional rainfall patterns

The report was prepared by Washington Sea Grant and sanctuary staff, building on more than a year of intensive collaboration among subject matter experts representing 27 agencies, organizations and academic institutions.

The authors also made recommendations for future action for sanctuary management, including focus on public education, information gathering, and policy and management strategies. Scientists, educators, natural resource managers, and communicators will continue to work together to outline regional next steps forward.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 3,188 square miles of marine and nearshore waters and intertidal habitat off of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula coastline. As one of 14 sites managed by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the sanctuary is provided protected status because of extraordinary ecological and maritime heritage values.

The Climate Change Impacts Report is available here.

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