UW’s State of Knowledge report on climate change reinforces urgency of Partnership’s State of the Sound findings

The impacts of climate change are here. Over the last year we’ve witnessed more fires, more flooding, record weather, reduced snowpack, and an increased number of extreme weather events that no matter how you cut it add up to one reality: Things are changing.

As we work toward a resilient Puget Sound, it becomes increasingly important to understand the depth and breadth of this impact as we strive to work this reality into our planning and focused investments.

“To protect Puget Sound, we need to plan for the ever-increasing impacts of climate change,” said Sheida R. Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “This report helps us better understand the very real pressures we will face over the coming decades. The effects of climate change impact every part of what we consider necessary for a healthy Puget Sound: clean water, abundant water quantity, human wellbeing, and a Puget Sound habitat that can support our native species. We must be better prepared for the changes we are already seeing. Together, we can create a resilient Puget Sound.”

A new report by the University of Washington synthesizes the relevant research about what we might expect to occur in Puget Sound due to climate change over the coming years.Front matter_2015-11-10_BT

The UW’s Climate Impacts Group, formed in 1995, periodically reviews and synthesizes published papers, agency studies and regional adaptation efforts to paint a picture of the future and how best to prepare for it. The group’s first report was produced in 2005 and focused on the following:

  • Changes in the key factors shaping the local environment: temperature, precipitation, sea level, ocean chemistry, and natural diversity
  • Implications for the watersheds around Puget Sound: freshwater resources, landslides, sediment transport, agriculture, and ecosystems
  • Consequences for Puget Sound’s marine waters: coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as water quality
  • Effects on the region’s population: human health, tribes, and infrastructure
  • Risk reduction activities underway in areas sensitive to sea level rise and flooding across the Puget Sound region.

VitalSignscoverThe 2015 State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound, released November 17, updates and expands on the 2005 findings. These findings are also summarized in the 2015 State of the Sound: Report on the Puget Sound Vital Signs, released Nov. 2 by the Puget Sound Partnership and Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP).

The predictions summarized in both reports note that future scenarios vary, depending on whether people and industry are able to control and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and take steps to lessen the irreversible aspects of climate change:

  • The average air temperature in Puget Sound will rise by between 2.9 and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century.
  • Ocean levels will rise by 4 to 56 inches by the end of the century, (depending on whether greenhouse gas emissions are low or high).
  • Winter flooding will increase due to rising seas, more winter precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, and more frequent and intense heavy rain events.
  • More landslides are possible, caused by more rain in the winter and more extreme weather events.
  • As ocean temperature warms, toxic algae blooms are likely to become more frequent.
  • Seawater will continue to become more acidic, which will adversely affect shellfish and the shellfish industry and possibly cause some algal blooms to become more toxic. Impacts on other marine life are not yet fully known.
  • Warmer air, less snowmelt and lower summer stream flows will combine to raise river temperatures in the summer, which will adversely affect salmon runs.

PugetSoundMarineWaters2014_reportcoverThese findings are further reinforced in the 2014 Puget Sound Marine Waters report, produced by NOAA’s Fisheries Science Center and the PSEMP Marine Waters Workgroup.

Additional information:

New report outlines Puget Sound region’s future under climate change (UW news release)

Statement from the Puget Sound Partnership regarding the 2015 Climate Change in Puget Sound report (PSP news release)

2015 State of the Sound report: Analysis of ecosystem recovery shows mixed progress (PSP news release)

UW study: Puget Sound area may face more flooding as climate gets warmer (Seattle Times)

— Cathy Cochrane & Alicia Lawver