Snowpack, Sea Level, And Wildlife Main Climate Change Risks In The Northwest

Nov 5, 2013

What do Idaho potato farmers and Puget Sound tribes that rely on shellfish have in common? They’re people in the Northwest who will be impacted by climate change, according to a new report led by Oregon State University and the University of Washington.

The report is based on models that predict average temperatures in the Northwest will rise over the next fifty years or so. Philip Mote, with Oregon State University was one of the lead authors. He says the goal was to look at the possible impacts of climate change. And figure out which pose the greatest risks in the Northwest. They identified three.

Mote: “The first is, the risk connected with the fact that much of our summer water supply originates as snowmelt.”

Lower snowpack and less summer flow in rivers like the Columbia could limit water for salmon and farmers and reduce the amount of power generated by the region’s dams.

Mote: “The second category of risk was the coastlines, the built infrastructure and private property and also the natural places.”

Mote says on some parts of the coast, sea levels are projected to rise as much as four feet in the next century. 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 and also contributed to the report. He says more research is needed in order to predict how marine species will respond to climate change. it’s still hard to say just how marine species will respond to climate change.

Williams: “If you want to ask are the crabs going to disappear going to disappear in Puget Sound, that’s hard to be very specific. 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.

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting