The Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) is a climate-science-to-action team funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A mix of scientists from disciplines as varied as atmospheric and social science, CIRC is a proud member of NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program, a national leader in climate science and adaptation.
CIRC acts in a supporting role for communities, policy makers, and resource managers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana as they adapt to climate variability and change. To do this, CIRC collaborates directly with Pacific Northwest communities as part of our Community Adaptation effort. To reach a broader audience, CIRC researchers are developing Climate Tools, a series of free online resources and applications that allow users in the climate adaptation community to apply the latest science and data in their planning.
CIRC is based at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Our researchers can be found across the Pacific Northwest, including at the University of Idaho, the University of Washington, and the University of Oregon. We are hosted at Oregon State University by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.
Northwest Climate Toolbox
The Northwest Climate Toolbox is a virtual toolbox of easy-to-navigate applications designed to help farmers, foresters, and water managers respond to and prepare for climate impacts.
The Toolbox transforms raw climatological, meteorological, and hydrological information, allowing users to visualize data relevant to them. Tools in the Toolbox include visualizations of historical data (going back decades); short-term, seasonal forecasts (on the order of months); and long-term, future projections (on the order of decades to the year 2100). Still more tools track wildfire danger, plant growing zones, and streamflow projections.
The Toolbox is a joint effort between CIRC and our colleagues at the Northwest Knowledge Network, USDA Northwest Climate Hub, and US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The Toolbox receives generous funding from the National Integrated Drought Information System.
NOAA's Climate Program Office is proposing expanding the RISA program in order to create a more robust network to increase our capacity to conduct place-based risk management and foster disaster-resilient economic growth.
Climate Science & Impacts
By the year 2100, CIRC research projects that the Pacific Northwest will be from 2 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was during the second half of the 20th century. These rising temperatures mean precipitation will be far more likely to fall as rain instead of as snow. As with much of the American West, mountain snow in the Pacific Northwest acts as a kind of natural reservoir, providing water via snowmelt during our region’s warm, dry summer months. Losing this snow to rising temperatures is expected to have far-reaching consequences for our region’s hydrology, consequences that range from drought and forest fires to increased flooding in some basins. At the same time, our region’s coastal communities face other challenges, from severe storms to rising sea levels—the result of melting polar ice and increasing ocean temperatures—that are expected to cause flooding and beach erosion.
CIRC researchers are in the process of crafting a series of innovative, easy-to-use, free online Climate Tools designed specifically to help our region’s farmers and water managers deal with water scarcity as our climate changes.
Our goal is simple: we want to aid our Pacific Northwest communities as they incorporate climate information—from short-term climate forecasting (months) to long-term climate projections (decades)—into adaptation and resource management strategies that keep our region’s wilderness, communities, and businesses resilient and flexible under the changes we face now and into the future.
From resource managers and policy makers to farmers and city dwellers alike, everyone in the Pacific Northwest holds a stake in the climate impacts now underway in our region. However, helping our fellow stakeholders adapt to climate change is a problem so vexingly complex that to do it successfully requires not only employing the latest Climate Science, it also means retooling that science into working strategies that include the desires, concerns, and knowledge of as many individuals and groups as possible. At CIRC, we do this through direct Community Adaptation efforts that engage Northwest stakeholders in a collaborative effort that we call the coproduction of knowledge.
The Climate CIRCulator
At CIRC, we understand that the vast scientific literature around climate change can take years to fully decipher, that’s why as part our goal to put the best available climate science into the hands our stakeholders CIRC has developed a series of communications projects that seek to distil the complexities of climate science. To do this, CIRC publishes The Climate CIRCulator, a free monthly newsletter summarizing the latest climate science covering the Northwest. The CIRCulator in turn informs our group’s contribution to national and regional climate assessments.
CIRC's Role in the Pacific Northwest
CIRC acts in a supporting role for communities, policy makers, and resource managers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana as they work to adapt to our changing climate. To do this, CIRC collaborates directly with Pacific Northwest communities as part of our Community Adaptation effort. To reach a broader audience, CIRC researchers are developing Climate Tools, a series of free online services and applications that allow users in the climate adaptation community to apply the latest climate science and data as they plan for climate change.
Our NOAA RISA team frequently collaborates with Pacific Northwest stakeholders, creating networks and venues that encourage open conversations about climate variability and change. This often means having very frank conversations about climate impacts, including what declines in regional snowpack mean for the Pacific Northwest’s current and future water needs. More often than not, these conversations have turned toward planning. The legacy of these efforts can be seen throughout our region.
On the Oregon coast, residents of Tillamook County have a clear idea of the type of planning they need to do to respond to sea level rise and other coastal hazards. In Idaho’s Big Wood River Basin, the stakeholders CIRC worked with are now applying lessons learned from our collaboration, helping them better manage their water resources. Our efforts can be seen in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where CIRC helped the cities’ water utilities—with over 2 million customers—further develop their own technical capacity to prepare for projected water scarcities expected under climate change.
The legacy of our NOAA RISA team’s efforts can also be seen through CIRC projects, such as Integrated Scenarios and the Multivariate Adaptive Constructed Analogs (MACA) downscaling method, both of which have provided foundational, state-of-the-science knowledge to support climate adaptation efforts and research in our region. CIRC’s role in the Pacific Northwest can be seen in our publication of peer-reviewed research focusing on the climate concerns of our region. Through media engagement, this work has raised public awareness about local climate impacts, including the exceptionally low snowpack our region experienced in 2015 and the observed increase in the size and ferocity of wildfires across the Western United States in recent decades.
CIRC’s role in shaping the climate conversation in the Pacific Northwest can be seen in our participation in both regional and national climate assessments, including The Third National Climate Assessment, work that has become standard reference material for adaptation efforts in the Pacific Northwest.
Our NOAA RISA team has accomplished all this through not only our close
interaction with our regional stakeholders—including various city, county, and state organizations—but also through our multiple active partnerships with associated organizations involved in climate research in the Pacific Northwest.
CIRC partners include: Oregon Sea Grant, the US Department of Interior Northwest Climate Science Center, the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, the Conservation Biology Institute, the US Department of Agriculture Northwest Climate Hub, University of Idaho’s Northwest Knowledge Network, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, The Resource Innovation Group, the Regional Approaches to Climate Change for Pacific Northwest Agriculture project, our partners through the Willamette Water 2100 project, and state extension services in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
Our partnerships have allowed us to leverage CIRC’s base funding, to apply our skills where needed, and to aid our NOAA RISA team in helping forge a larger network of people and organizations researching and responding to climate change and its impacts in the Pacific Northwest.
Since CIRC launched in 2010, our NOAA RISA team has made significant progress on multiple fronts, including fulfilling the goals of our initial proposal. We
took advantage of numerous additional opportunities for building sustainable partnerships in the Pacific Northwest while leveraging our starting resources.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Helped the Pacific Northwest’s two largest water utilities, Seattle Public Utilities and Portland Water Bureau—with a combined service area ofover 2 million customers—develop in-house capacity for their own climate research, and apply climate data to their watersheds in an effort to help the utilities respond to climate change impacts to their water supplies.
- Applied the coproduction of actionable knowledge process to three key CIRC-led projects: Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures, Tillamook County Coastal Futures, and Grays Harbor Coastal Futures projects.
- Stakeholder participants in Idaho’s Big Wood River Basin have experimented with several water-saving adaptation strategies coproduced with us as part of CIRC’s Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures project.
- Facilitated advanced discussions about planning for coastal hazards in Oregon’s Tillamook and Clatsop Counties, including the publication of Regional Framework for Climate Adaptation, Clatsop and Tillamook Counties.
- Co-led the Pacific Northwest chapter for The Third National Climate Assessment and wrote an extensive companion report, Climate Change in the Northwest: Implications for Our Landscapes, Waters, and Communities, published by Island Press.
- Advanced the state of the science by publishing over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles connected with our NOAA RISA team’s efforts.
- Advanced the state of the science by refining a sensitivity-based approach in hydrological modeling.
- Advanced the state of the science of coastal waves by improving the modeling of total water level in our work with communities responding to coastal hazards.
- Created and refined several free online tools that compile CIRC project efforts, providing climate data for downloading, and providing important climate information.
- Integrated data from the UW Drought Monitoring System for the Pacific Northwest into the US Drought Monitor.
- Created two climate vulnerability assessments and climate action plans with the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service for the Blue Mountains and Northern Rocky Mountains Adaptation Partnerships.
- Undertook the first ever regional-scale use of a superensemble using a regional climate model.