Climate: Study suggests Pacific Northwest streamflow declines may be linked with waning winter winds

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Global warming may be changing westerly winds that drive weather patterns in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Crucial water supplies under the gun from a changing climate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Changes in runoff from winter snowpack have been widely documented across the West and most researchers attribute those changes to global warming. But along with the direct impact of warmer temperatures, there may also be a more subtle factor in play.

Recent Forest Service studies on high-elevation climate trends in the Pacific Northwest United States show that streamflow declines tie directly to decreases and changes in winter winds that bring precipitation across the region. The decrease in winter winds may be linked with natural climate variations and man-made climate change.

Other climate research on a larger scale suggests that circumpolar wind speeds may be declining as a result of melting Arctic sea ice —  the temperature gradient between the high- and mid-latitudes drives the wind, and that gradient is lessening. Continue reading

Global warming drives more nighttime heatwaves

Pacific Northwest researchers document startling increase in number of hot nights during the past few decades

Global warming map

A NASA map shows an area of above-average temperatures hugging the Pacific Northwest coast during the spring of 2013.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A trend of more frequent nighttime heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest may not portend killer temperatures and withering crops, but it is another sign that  global warming will have a profound effect on regional climate and weather.

Scientists with the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University documented 15 examples of “nighttime heat waves” from 1901 through 2009. Ten of them have occurred since 1990 and five were during a four-year period from 2006-09. Continue reading

Global warming: Pacific Northwest study shows nuanced streamflow response to changing climatic conditions

Snow-fed rivers likely to see biggest impacts

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The mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. Photo courtesy Corps of Engineers.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As regional climate models improve, scientists in various disciplines have been able to fine-tune their projections of impacts to various ecosystems, including rivers. The Southwest is likely to get especially hard, with some studies showing a steep drop in Colorado River flows.

In other parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, the impacts will probably be more nuanced, with the biggest impacts on summer stream flows in basins fed by melting snow and ice in the high Cascades, according to study by scientists at Oregon State University.

Though these iconic rivers – including the Willamette, McKenzie, Deschutes, Klamath and Rogue – appear to have plenty of water, they also may be among the most sensitive to climate change, the study concludes. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Northern spotted owl gets more protection

Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFS.

Latest critical habitat designation reverses politically tainted Bush-era plan

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly four years after President Barack Obama took office, federal agencies are still trying to undo some of the environmental mischief from the Bush era. Last week, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 9 million acres of critical habitat for threatened northern spotted owls.

The designation, spread across federal lands in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, replaces a 2008 designation by the Bush administration that ignored years of scientific evidence showing that spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest needed more, not less, old-growth forest habitat protection.

The Bush-era critical habitat designation was based on a recovery plan for the owl that was widely criticized by the scientific community. Congressional hearings later showed that the plan was shaped by political interference designed to undermine the protective measures of the Northwest Forest Plan.

Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the 2008 plan, resulting in last week’s designation, which is a substantial increase from both previous designations. Continue reading

Study: Oregon could be due for a killer quake

Parts of the Cascadia subduction zone may be overdue for a large earthquake. Map courtesy USGS.

New research documents timeline of Pacific Northwest fault activity

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Pacific Northwest could be due for a monster earthquake sometime in the next 50 years, with Oregon’s southern coast pinpointed as the most vulnerable area, according to Oregon State University researchers who recently finished studying the pattern of historical quakes in the region.

The comprehensive analysis of the Cascadia Subduction Zone confirms numerous earthquakes during the past 10,000 years and estimates that a new quake could approach the intensity of the Tohoku quake that devastated Japan in March 2011.

“The southern margin of Cascadia has a much higher recurrence level for major earthquakes than the northern end and, frankly, it is overdue for a rupture,” said Chris Goldfinger, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the study. “That doesn’t mean that an earthquake couldn’t strike first along the northern half, from Newport, Ore., to Vancouver Island. Continue reading

Pacific Northwest orcas declining for lack of salmon

New study suggests shipping traffic a smaller factor

A pod of orcas in the Pacific. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Recovering Chinook salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest is probably the key to killer whale conservation efforts, according to new research based on measurements of hormone levels in the marine mammals.

The southern resident killer whales, living in coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, have been struggling and some researchers think it’s primarily because of increase ship traffic in the region.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are also  threatened by pollution and other human activities in many parts of their range.

But new research suggests the marine mammals are struggling mainly because of inadequate prey.The study was led led by Katherine Ayres, who completed the work while at University of Washington in Seattle. Continue reading

Tsunami anniversary offers lessons for Northwest

Cultural shift needed to ensure safety of coastal residents

Tsunami flooding on the Sendai Airport runway. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The one-year anniversary of the devastating tsunami in Japan offers some sobering lessons for parts of the U.S. that could one day face a similar disaster.

The fact that 90 percent of the coastal region’s residents and visitors evacuated effectively is a tribute to planning and community drills, said Patrick Corcoran, an Oregon State University education and outreach specialist, who just returned from a disaster symposium at United Nations University in Japan.

If the same magnitude earthquake and tsunami hits the Pacific Northwest, the death toll will be much higher because of the lack of comparable preparation, he said. That 90 percent rate could be the number of victims, not survivors. Continue reading

Global warming: Lodgepole pine may be down — and out

Changing climate shrinks habitat for iconic western trees

Lodgepole pine may disappear from much of the western landscape within the next 100 years.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —  Lodgepole pines may not only be down from the pinebeetle epidemic, it may be out, thanks to global warming, which is rapidly shrinking suitable habitat for the iconic Western tree.

The hardy pine, which thrives in harsh mountain climates, may disappear from most of the Pacific Northwest by 2080 and is likely to survive in only 17 percent of it current range in the West, according to new research by scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the Department of Forest Resource Management at the University of British Columbia.

The study, just published in the journal Climatic Change, was based on an analysis of 12,600 sites across a broad geographic range, where warming temperatures, less winter precipitation, earlier loss of snowpack and more summer drought already appear to be affecting the range of lodgepole pine, at the same time increasing the infestations of bark beetles that attack this tree species. Continue reading

Genetic research shows steelhead, trout links

healthy steelhead runs in Northwest depend on rainbow trout productivity

New research shows that a steelhead, such as the large fish in this image, is just one of the options for steelhead reproduction, along with other fish such as rainbow trout. (Photo by John McMillan)

By David Stauth

SUMMIT COUNTY — Genetic research is showing that healthy steelhead runs in Pacific Northwest streams can depend heavily on the productivity of their stay-at-home counterparts, rainbow trout.

Steelhead and rainbow trout look different, grow differently, and one heads off to sea while the other never leaves home. But the life histories and reproductive health of wild trout and steelhead are tightly linked and interdependent, more so than has been appreciated, a new Oregon State University study concludes.

The research could raise new challenges for fishery managers to pay equally close attention to the health, stability and habitat of wild rainbow trout, the researchers say, because healthy steelhead populations may require healthy trout populations. Continue reading

Weatherblog: Polar low to bring some snow

4 to 8 inches possible on favored north-facing slopes

A cold front associated with a polar low pressure spinning over B.C. is clearly visible as a line of precipitation draped from Montana to northern Califorina in this NOAA satellite image from Sunday morning. Speckled white clouds off the shore of the Pacific Northwest indicate cold air dropping down behind the front.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The local mountains are sitting between a winter weather advisory issued for northwest Colorado and a winter storm watch in effect for the eastern half of the state, but National Weather Service forecaster in Grand Junction say we’re still on track for a blast of snow — along with some chilly temperatures — late in the weekend.

The weather service models have been consistent in forecasting 4 to 8 inches of snow for the area, with the higher amounts possible over the most-favored northwest facing slopes at higher elevations. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is also calling for 2 to 5 inches of snow for Summit County on Sunday, thanks to a polar low pressure system currently spinning over British Columbia.

That low will slowly dig toward Colorado during the next 48 hours, with an intense band of snow developing along a cold front set to move through Sunday. But until then, look for relatively mild temps Saturday under increasing clouds, with a forecast high of 34 degrees. Sunday’s highs drop back into the low 20s, with single-digit readings Monday and Tuesday, when lows will dip well below 0 degrees, perhaps into the negative teens. Continue reading

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