From farmers bracing for drought, ocean-side homeowners troubled by rising sea levels, and American Indians concerned by rising temperatures’ effects on salmon and other sacred cultural resources, everyone in the Pacific Northwest holds a stake in climate change, its impacts, and disruptions. We need to adapt to climate change, to make our communities, cultures, and economies resilient in face of the changes ahead, and we need to do it together.
As part of our Community Adaptation effort, CIRC team members meet regularly with our Pacific Northwest partners, engaging and collaborating with them to craft tailor-made climate adaptation strategies that empower communities to visualize the many changes they face in the future, and, most importantly, to outline what they can do to prepare. We do this by combining our team’s climate and social science know-how with the know-how and concerns of our partners. The idea here is simple: nobody can see the whole climate change picture, let alone chose the ‘right’ path for adaptation, but by working together, we can get a little closer. Together we can put science into action, and in the process become resilient to climate change. CIRC has helped do this through the many projects we’ve ran and participated in.
Envision Tillamook Coastal Futures
Imagine a future where local sea levels rise anywhere from half a meter (1.5 feet) to as much as 1.5 meters (5 feet) by the end of this century. Imagine a world where the Pacific Ocean comes crashing into your coastal town, blocking the only road leading to safety. These are some of the research-backed thought experiments community members in coastal Tillamook County, Oregon, considered as part of CIRC’s Envision Tillamook Coastal Futures (Envision Tillamook) project. Initially funded jointly by NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications (COCA) program and Oregon Sea Grant, Envision Tillamook joined CIRC’s portfolio in 2011. Using the innovative ENVISION computer modeling platform developed by CIRC researcher John Bolte—and used for CIRC projects, including Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures—CIRC worked with residents, planners, and government officials in Tillamook County to develop what amounted to a series of high-tech thought experiments that empowered community members to visualize how climate change and local planning could affect their natural and human landscapes. During these meetings we developed a series of probable future scenarios that mixed possible policy choices—from shoreline armoring to doing nothing at all—with climate projections—including rising sea levels and increasing wave heights—with local human impacts—including population projections and infrastructure growth to the year 2100. By combining all these factors in a series of differing combinations, residents in Tillamook County were able to glimpse how the policy choices they make now could help them as their landscape changes.
Grays Harbor Coastal Futures
Starting in 2015, CIRC team members began reaching out to coastal communities in Grays Harbor County, Washington, to see if we could help them become more resilient in the face of climate change and other hazards. Our CIRC team is now working with a group of community members with whom we are developing a series of alternative futures scenarios to help them visualize the coastal hazards they may face in the decades ahead. You read that right, futures plural. Climate change modeling isn’t about predicting a single monolithic future. There’s too much uncertainty and human societies are too complicated and unpredictable for that. But while the future is unwritten, climate and social science can tell us a great deal about the likely futures we face. This is why CIRC’s goal in Grays Harbor and elsewhere has been to give communities the ability to visualize the many probable paths that lie ahead of them. In Grays Harbor that means aiding local community members as they envision how drivers of change—from rising sea levels and growing seaside storms to population shifts—will affect their futures. Elements from the project have now been incorporated into a CIRC Climate Tool called Grays Harbor Coastal Futures Explorer.
Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures
Lying roughly dead center in the lower half of Idaho, the Big Wood River Basin is more than 3,000 square miles, an area larger than Delaware. As with much of the American West, Big Wood is facing potential water scarcities as warming temperatures lead to less mountain snowpack, altering the region’s hydrology and potentially affecting everyone from skiers to farmers. In 2012, a CIRC team made up of climate and social scientists reached out to community members in the Big Wood to investigate and respond to changes that the basin is likely to experience in the future. The result was the Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures project. CIRC’s team worked with local community members, engaging everyone from local farmers and business owners to policy makers and conservation groups. Working together we developed an innovative computer model of the Big Wood. The model ran a series of sophisticated simulations informed by our team’s scientific research and local know-how, empowering local residents to glimpse how drivers of change—from projected temperature spikes to population growth, to changes in the local economy and farming—as well as policy responses — could affect the Big Wood’s water resources in the future. So what did we learn? We learned the even in the face of the seemingly overwhelming force of global climate change there were a number of actions—from policy actions to changes in farming practices—Big Wood community members could take to make their basin more resilient in the face of change.
Blue Mountains Adaptation Partnership
Nestled in the corner of northeast Oregon and southeast Washington, the Blue Mountains are a collection of smaller ranges that comprise a rich, complex ecosystem of forests, streams, and snow-capped peaks. As with other mountain ecosystems in the American West and Pacific Northwest, the Blue Mountains face impacts from a warming and changing climate that threaten to reduce snowpack, increase water scarcity, and raise the risk of wildfires. In response to these and other projected climate impacts, CIRC teamed up with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and Blue Mountain community members in an ambitious effort called the Blue Mountains Adaptation Partnership. Led by the Forest Service, the Partnership produced a comprehensive climate assessment and adaptation plan designed to help resource managers working in the Blue Mountains respond to climate change. The Partnership is part of a larger Forest Service effort called Adaptation Partners. Created by Forest Service researchers hoping to proactively respond to climate change impacts on our National Forests, the Adaptation Partners network of projects includes another joint effort between CIRC and the Forest Service, the Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership. This Partnership covers a large swath of the Rocky Mountains in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. An assessment and adaptation plan for the Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership is expected late in 2016.
Climate & Health
When we think of climate change, we often think of extreme weather events, such as droughts or heat waves. But climate change has many effects that stretch beyond what we normally imagine. Consider health. Climate change-related threats to human health run the gamut, including an increase in vector-borne diseases and heat-related illness and death; injuries and death from flooding and landslides; and an exacerbation of respiratory disease from sources such as wildfires, which have dramatically increased in extent as the region has warmed. Here in the Pacific Northwest, local health jurisdictions are beginning to link up with climatologists in an effort to ensure existing adaptation strategies match current and future threats under climate change.
As part of CIRC’s Grays Harbor Coastal Futures project in Grays Harbor, Washington, CIRC is working with members of Grays Harbor County Public Health & Social Services to determine and prioritize the climate-related risks faced by county residents. Our goal is to use this information to increase our region’s capacity to address climate change impacts to public health. Our work is guided by the BRACE framework (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects), a tool designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for local health jurisdictions to adapt and manage the health impacts of climate change.
Coping With Drought
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is a groundbreaking, national inter-agency effort aimed at making our nation more resilient in droughts and their impacts. Being led by CIRC’s parent organization, NOAA, NIDIS functions as a kind of scientific and policy think tank for all things drought related. Under NIDIS and its funding mechanism Coping With Drought Initiative, CIRC team members have been laboring to raise the profile of our region’s responses to drought through media engagement, local outreach, and collaboration with partner organizations in our region. CIRC’s efforts are currently being funneled into the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), an ambitious effort created to help empower farmers, ranchers, and others to proactively respond to drought through innovation. CIRC team members are also hard at work developing and perfecting our own drought-related Climate Tools—including the UW Pacific Northwest Drought Monitor—to help our Pacific Northwest neighbors get the most up-to-date information about drought, its impacts, and what it means for them. CIRC research is currently being applied to the US Drought Monitor, an online tool that provides weekly updates on drought for the US.
North Coast Climate Adaptation
The North Coast Climate Adaptation project builds on the state of Oregon’s 2010 Climate Change Adaptation Framework, an effort to address climate’s impacts on the state’s natural resources, businesses, and transportation infrastructure, providing the basis for several local adaptation efforts. In late 2013, with support from Oregon State University Extension Service, CIRC partnered with Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to create an adaptation project built on the Framework. The result was the North Coast Climate Adaptation project. Working with federal, state, and local decision makers, the North Coast Climate Adaptation project’s objective was to categorize and prioritize climate risks identified for the northern Oregon Coast. The project leveraged the collective knowledge of over 100 community members, landscape managers, and university researchers. Results from the project include a climate assessment and adaptation plan for the state’s two northern coastal counties, Clatsop and Tillamook Counties. The report, Regional Framework for Climate Adaptation Clatsop and Tillamook Counties, includes a companion report detailing the project’s processes and outcomes. Team members of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI), CIRC’s host organization, were instrumental in the development of Oregon’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework.
At CIRC we understand that climate adaptation is above all about being part of a community. We cannot overstate how much we value the many partnerships we have forged across our diverse and beautiful region. Which is why we need to take the time to mention one of our most essential partners, our fellow NOAA-funded organization Oregon Sea Grant (OSG). Through close cooperation with OSG, CIRC funds a Regional Extension Climate Specialist. Often the first CIRC team member to reach out and engage a community interested in Community Adaptation, this person is the icebreaker that starts the larger conversation that eventually leads to a community empowering itself to respond to climate change.
Piloting Utility Modeling Applications (PUMA)
Putting climate science into action at the local level isn’t easy. Consider expertise. One size doesn’t fit all. This is one of the lessons CIRC learned from participating in the Piloting Utility Modeling Applications (PUMA) project. Not a CIRC project per se, PUMA is first-of-its kind climate adaptation effort being spearheaded by members of the Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA), a coalition of 10 of the nation’s largest water providers, including the Pacific Northwest’s own Portland Water Bureau (PWB) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). PUMA has a simple but ambitious goal: help water providers plan for climate change by putting climate science into action at the local level. Both PWB and SPU participated in PUMA projects, reaching out to CIRC to help them understand how climate changes—from a loss of snow to wildfires—might affect their ability to provide water to their customers. CIRC’s PUMA participants, made up of hydrologic and atmospheric scientists, aided teams of engineers at the two water providers by furnishing them with climate and hydrologic data tailored for their watersheds. Through this effort, we discovered that our CIRC researchers and the utilities’ engineers spoke very different technical languages. But working together, our team and the PWB and SPU teams figured out how to overcome this obstacle. The result: both utilities are now incorporating climate change science into both their short- and long-term planning.
Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project
Based at the University of Oregon, the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project has a simple message: while American Indian and Alaska Native tribes have contributed little to climate change, they are nonetheless being disproportionately affected by its impacts. That’s because these impacts threaten natural resources that are the very bedrock of many tribes’ cultures and identities, not to mention local economies. From raging forest fires and rising atmospheric temperatures that threaten traditionally gathered plants to warming streams temperatures further endangering already endangered salmon, Pacific Northwest tribes find their cultures, identities, and sovereign rights threatened by climate change. The Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project seeks to provide a platform for tribes to exchange information as they develop climate adaptation plans. To aid this effort, the project has created the Tribal Climate Change Guide, an exhaustively researched Climate Tool that provides up-to-date information on everything from climate scientists working in the Pacific Northwest to federal and state grants as they become available. The Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project is funded by several diverse partner organizations, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. CIRC began participating in the project and its funding in 2015.
Willamette Water 2100
Oregon’s fertile Willamette River basin is the state’s most populous as well as one of its most important forest and agricultural regions. Tracking how water supply, land use, and water scarcity in the basin are expected to change in this century under the drivers of climate change, population, and economic growth is the subject of the Willamette Water 2100 (WW2100) project. Like many places in the West, the Willamette River basin faces water scarcity resulting from declining snowpack. Among the project’s key findings, researchers learned that under climate change, rising temperatures are expected to reduce snowpacks and create less than favorable conditions for existing forests while increasing the frequency of wildfires. Urban water demand could double as the basin’s urban populations rise throughout this century. However, water demand for agriculture could stay about the same or even slightly decline as farmlands near high-growth urban areas are converted for urban use. Primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, WW2100 employed the same ENVISION modeling platform used by CIRC researchers in the Big Wood Basin, Tillamook County, and Grays Harbor County. For more information on CIRC's contribution to this project, click here.