The Climate CIRCulator is brought to you by The Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) and The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI).

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon (right) takes the podium after an introduction from Dr. Philip Mote.  (Screenshot and conference videos by Carl Jameson, Craftmaster Productions)

Scientists, Practitioners
Convene in Portland

The Fourth Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Conference drew about 320 researchers and practitioners to Portland in September. This issue of the CIRCulator summarizes the Conference; at press time, videos of many of the talks have been posted and many more will be linked to the agenda, at

A steelhead jumps in falls on the Salmonberry River, a tributary of the Nehalem River in the Oregon Coast Range.  (Gary Braasch)

Managing Species Impacts
From Bud Bursts to Bark Beetles to Salmon Runs

Users of climate information have different “mental models” and need both technical and non-technical solutions for adaptation. Concurrent Session 1 focused on engagement with users of climate information who are managing climate change impacts on species, ecosystems, and agriculture. It's important to learn their: 1) challenges and opportunities; 2) decision-relevant spatial and temporal scales, timelines for actions, and degree of urgency; and 3) primary partners in ongoing adaptation efforts.  Users say their needs include data and scientific information, especially future temperature and precipitation scenarios; decision support tools, especially visualizations to help prioritize and defend decisions; collaboration and capacity building; understandable and accessible communication of scientific information; analysis of tradeoffs; and standards to incorporate climate information into existing practices. Species have various means to adapt. Amphibians may have “phenotypical plasticity” that helps them cope with higher water temperatures; invasive pine bark beetles thrive and spread in warmer winters; fewer winter cold periods have changed bud burst timing (i.e., spring flowering); and fluctuations in ocean temperature have altered salmon migratory behavior. Climate models still are essential in providing information to better understand species dynamics and coping strategies to inform management decisions.

Rolling hills of the Palouse Region in southeast Washington, a legacy of the silt from the huge Pleistocene glaciers,  are one of the nation's best wheat growing areas.  (Gary Braasch)

Anticipating the Future
Modeling  Multiple Aspects of the Climate System

The coordination and integration of climate, vegetation, hydrological, and sociological modeling was a common theme running through Concurrent Session 3, which focused on ecological, hydrological, and coastal modeling in the Pacific Northwest. The session began with a background presentation on the climate models that are often used to drive impacts (i.e., hydrological or ecological) models. A particular mention was made of the necessity to simulate the dependencies and feedbacks between humans and natural systems (for example, when considering reservoir operations or coastal dynamics). In addition, when modeling for decision support, it was noted that early involvement of stakeholders is critical. This early involvement ensures that stakeholders receive the types of information they find most useful.

Easy access to fine-scale drought monitoring, West Wide Drought Tracker  (WRCC)

Seasonal Outlook
Quarterly Recap for Pacific Northwest

The Seasonal Climate Impacts and Outlook from CIRC will be issued quarterly in addition to the monthly Climate CIRCulator. In this product we recap the past season in the Pacific Northwest, including climate-related impacts, and discuss the climate outlook for the coming months. You can check out the inaugural Spring issue and most recent Summer product at Product partners include the National Integrated Drought Information System, the Office of the Washington State Climatologist, Oregon State University Extension, University of Idaho Extension, and Washington State University Extension.

Columbia River looking toward Mount Hood (Gary Braasch)

Featured Photographer
Gary Braasch on Climate Change

Gary Braasch is a fellow for the International League of Conservation Photographers, an Ansel Adams Awardee, and has an impressive history of contributing to the topic of environmental conservation and global warming. He currently has an exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston titled "Climate Change in our World."
Ph.D. student Katy Serafin

Featured Student
Katy Serafin on Wave Climate

The Pacific Northwest experiences some of the most energetic extreme waves in the world, and these waves play a large role in coastal flooding events, explained CIRC Ph.D. student Katy Serafin of Oregon State University in a presentation that earned her a "best student presentation" award. Her research investigated the impact of projected changes in wave climate on extreme Total Water Levels (TWLs) in the Pacific Northwest. To better understand the extent of coastal inundation, TWLs are computed by combining sea-level elevations extracted from tide gauges with wave run-up estimates, calculated as a function of foreshore beach slope and incident wave height and period. These components are simulated to produce multiple, synthetic time series of the TWL, accounting for seasonality and trends in wave heights and water levels.

To investigate the relative impact of future wave climate on future TWLs, wave climates dynamically downscaled from global climate models and a medium (RCP4.5) and high (RCP8.5) radiative forcing scenario, are used as inputs to the simulation model. Mid-century (2026 to 2045) radiative forcing scenario RCP4.5 produces larger wave heights for Oregon than mid-century RCP8.5. One possible explanation is that storm tracks shift northward for higher forcing scenarios. The relative exposure of erosion and flooding due to changes in wave climate along the Oregon coast can then be assessed by comparing the extreme TWL events to the dune crest elevation, the first line of protection from inundation for coastal infrastructure.

In addition to CIRC, Serafin is  supported by NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications program and PRBO Conservation Science. Her adviser is CIRC PI Peter Ruggiero.

Sunlight streams through a forest of native Douglas firs, western hemlock, western red cedar and grand fir along the North Santiam River in Willamette National Forest west of Mount Jefferson.  (Gary Braasch)

Hydrology and Climate
Deducing the Future from the Past

Progress toward our understanding of variability within and beyond the instrumental record was a common thread among the presentations of Concurrent Session 2. Examples of extracting knowledge from the instrumental record included using the width of tree rings to examine the frequency of low-flow periods in the Klamath River back to 1500, while the isotopic signature in tree rings was used to source the water available for trees. A number of phenomena were examined by the researchers in this session, both from a historical perspective, as well as projecting into the future. Statistical and mechanistic (physical) models were used to examine regional warming, snow pack depletion, changes in stream flow, changes in rain-on-snow events, and increased summer evapotranspiration in Eastern Washington. One speaker quantified the relative impacts of future land-use and climate change on the hydrology of the Santiam Basin. Lastly, two speakers discussed approaches to managing the vast and rapidly growing amount of data involved in scientific inquiry.

Seen from the air, the Foster Floodplain Natural Area shows the natural meanders of Johnson Creek, which were restored by the City of Portland as part of a 63-acre reestablishment of natural open space. Working with local residents, the city removed 60 houses from this flood-prone neighborhood, preventing recurring high water from flooding across Foster Road and inundating businesses. (Gary Braasch)

Proactive Climate Adaptation
Creating Scenarios from Cities to Wild Lands

Proactive adaptation planning in local communities, forests, and ecosystems was a major theme of Concurrent Session 4, which covered topics related to climate adaptation. Other topics included the value of local action over the long haul and the role of experts; bridging science, policy, and management using various tools and down-scaled models; and understanding agency, context, and resilience to climate change. Local governments, especially municipalities, are currently major drivers of climate adaptation using risk assessment to manage threats. Visualization tools such as ENVISION can be used to create scenarios showing incremental changes that improve fire adaptation in the wildland-urban interface. Green infrastructure (e.g., estuaries, open space) as an adaptive strategy can be restored to bolster protection of communities from storm surges and urban flooding, as well as to protect and reestablish urban species and habitats. Better packaging and customization of adaptive information to suit specific user needs, including feedback from clients, can determine whether adaptive information and tools are successfully applied or dismissed, and whether clients will maintain adaptation tools themselves into the future. Forest managers often do not have enough information or capacity to initiate climate vulnerability assessments or implement adaptive solutions making policy innovations challenging. However, scientists co-producing knowledge and solutions with forest managers, and understanding “what is doable” in current contexts can advance adaptive policies. This approach helps in prioritizing incremental actions, modifying existing programs, and examining problems and solutions in real-time and near-term. Sometimes a single variable like snow-melt timing is the key to determining adaptive capacity offering a guide for forest management strategies.
Crater Lake in winter (Dudley Chelton)

(Top of page) Marys Peak from Pyramid Peak in the Oregon Cascades (Dudley Chelton)

Plenary Speaker Highlights

Senator Jeff Merkley, Oregon

Scientists can provide information helping people to connect the dots between global warming and recent climate impacts in Oregon, encouraging support for public policies to reduce global CO2 concentrations from 400 ppm to a more sustainable level of 350 ppm.
In his keynote, Senator Jeff Merkley spoke about moving society from a global atmospheric CO2 concentration currently at 400 parts per million (ppm) back to a level of 350 ppm that is considered more sustainable, while also adapting to changes that are inevitable. He noted evidence of climate impacts in Oregon of Klamath Basin drought, agricultural damages, heavy fire seasons, more pine bark beetles, less snowpack, fewer glaciers, and ocean acidification affecting oysters as a “canary in the coalmine.” He noted the role of science and scientists in communicating to the public as a whole; be they urban or rural, dismissive or alarmed.  Scientists can provide the necessary facts, not to further alarm, but to inform people about the small changes they are seeing in their landscapes and livelihoods because of climate change. This information will reinforce understanding about what they actually are experiencing, helping them connect the dots between impacts and actions supporting policy changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that also will, according to Merkley, enhance the economy and create jobs.

Rick Spinrad, Vice President for Research, Oregon State University

Climate research decisions should be evaluated on relevance, risk, and return, focusing on conducting science that both advances understanding and is usable by decision makers.
"Climate is what you want, but weather is what you get," quipped Rick Spinrad In the opening plenary session, "Regional Climate Science and Pasteur's Quadrant." However, he also noted that climate is more than weather; that climate research decisions should be evaluated on relevance (i.e., priorities), risk (i.e., the chance that a gain will be realized from local to global), and return (i.e., what rewards are gained from research investments) with the goals of weighing and balancing these three elements. He also spoke about Pasteur’s Quadrant or a matrix of applied science versus fundamental research, noting that most of the science community that federal research sponsors want science that both advances understanding and is usable by decision makers. He also discussed the “velocity of climate change"—or measuring the rate and extent of climate changes over time across landscapes as a function of changes in plant and animal species distribution and composition. He stressed the value of this information for understanding and managing changes to ecosystems. 

Chad Wilsey, Researcher, Conservation and Landscape Ecology Lab, University of Washington

Climate impacts on several wildlife species were studied using a new, more complete mechanistic model. This model is used for predicting species sensitivities and dispersal. In general, it shows species migration or expansion of their ranges northward, over the 21st century.
Climate impacts on wildlife, including pika, raptors, wolverine, and lynx, was the focus of Chad Wilsey's talk, "Climate Impacts on Wildlife Populations." He discussed a new mechanistic model for predicting species dispersal as a result of climate change. This model uses statistically downscaled climate models based on annual emissions projections integrated with dynamic vegetation and population models. Earlier bioclimatic impacts models only examined physiological factors in wildlife that respond to climate change. In addition to physiology, variables related to habitat, dispersal, population growth, interspecies interactions, and disturbance provide a more complete picture of species climate sensitivities and coping strategies. The mechanistic model can then be used to evaluate “sources and sinks” of wildlife species under different climate change scenarios. The model generally shows that the species studied decline in the southern range of their habitat, and increase or stabilize in northern parts of their range, even expanding northward. The mechanistic model also shows fewer extreme changes in wildlife dispersal by the end of the 21st century than bioclimatic ones.


Guillaume Mauger, Climate Scientist and Educator, University of Washington

Model uncertainties multiply when moving from global to local resolution, and into the future based on different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Evaluating climate sensitivities and understanding social context helps models provide useful decision support for managing impacts.
Root causes of climate model uncertainty include "what if" projections for greenhouse gas emissions and natural variability, said Guillaume Mauger in his talk, "From Climate Scenarios to Impacts:  Key Considerations for Managers." He discussed the increases in model uncertainty when moving from global to local scales. He noted that managing these uncertainties by evaluating climate sensitivities and understanding social context provides useful decision support for managing impacts. The four root causes of model uncertainty are: 1) greenhouse gas emissions scenarios—"what if" projections; 2) natural variability; 3) global model uncertainty; and 4) model spatial resolution. He suggested a methodology of identifying climate-sensitive decisions first, asking the climate question (i.e., integrating climate into existing decisions), acknowledging that climate is just one of multiple stressors, and determining the nexus among uncertainties, sensitivities, scales, and decisions.

Kristen Sheeran, Director and Co-founder of Economics for Equity and Environment Network

Climate science and economics are disconnected because the social cost of carbon is too low (i.e., discounted into the future) resulting in an under-valuing of CO2 emissions reductions.
Actions to slow emissions are undervalued, argued Kristen Sheeran in her talk, "Closing the Gap Between Climate Science and Climate Economics." The disconnect between climate science and economics is shown in the social cost of carbon (i.e., the value of each additional ton of CO2 emitted). Low discount rates (or how we value the future), among other economic measures valuing losses or gains, means that the social cost (or impact) of carbon emissions is lower than the reality of these costs. She also noted that economics and climate science assess catastrophic events differently with the result that economic damages may be under-valued.

Connie Roser-Renouf, Research Professor at the Center for Climate Communications at George Mason University

Public opinion in America about climate changes ranges across six categories from alarmed to dismissive. Science-based stories connecting people's experiences with impacts, values, and solutions are more likely to create a public engaged with the issue.
Opinions are often based on deep-seated beliefs and norms rather than "information deficit," explained Connie Roser-Renouf in her talk, "Communicating with Global Warming's Six Americas:  Strategies for Building Public Understanding and Issue Engagement." The Six Americas public opinion survey on climate change places respondents into six categories: alarmed (16 percent), concerned (26 percent), cautious (25 percent), disengaged (5 percent), doubtful (15 percent), and dismissive (13 percent). The goal of the study was to help scientists and other climate communicators better understand and overcome barriers to connecting with these various segments of society. Appeals to common values, motivations, and solutions are more likely to resonate across all these segments. The key to motivating action to reduce emissions or to adapt is to tell science-based stories where problems are solvable and people can be involved in solutions. Science-based narratives, especially about extreme events that people are experiencing, can help to establish the basis for accurate perceptions of uncertainty, risk, and the context for decisions now and into the future, even if solutions around greenhouse gas emissions reductions continue to be debated.

Amy Snover, Co-Director, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington

Successful adaptation is context dependent—based on science, practice, ethics, norms (values), perspectives and considering both process and outcomes—but social learning is a key variable in evaluating progress.
“When I think of success, it’s not about the journey, but how we learn to change,” said Amy Snover, paraphrasing a practitioner in her talk, "Successful Adaptation to Climate Change in the Coastal Context: Insights from Scientists and Practitioners." She spoke about successful adaptation as context dependent—based on science, best practices, ethics, norms (values), perspectives and considers both processes and outcomes. Adaptation practitioners are asking how to measure, talk, and think about successful adaptation, so a baseline state of knowledge is needed to evaluate claims of success. The basis of the evaluation was use-inspired research starting with the coastal managers in California, Oregon, and Washington, surveying them about the when, what, causality, and who decides at the intersection of their work and climate adaptation. Through the interviews, a picture of planning, risk evaluation, adaptive capacity, decision processes, implementation, outcomes, and barriers to action was formed. Process measures seemed to be more important than outcomes in evaluating success—and learning through failure was equally important but also hard to measure.

Kathy Jacobs, Assistant Director for Climate Assessment and Adaptation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

This National Climate Assessment is the third undertaken since 1990. A new goal is to of create a sustained process that is ongoing and supports an increase in adaptive capacity at the national, state, and local levels of governance.
Each federal agency must have an adaptation plan as part of the process toward building national, state, and local, adaptive capacity, said Kathy Jacobs in her talk, "The U.S. National Climate Assessment: A Foundation for Adaptation."  As part of her description of the history and process of developing and implementing the ongoing National Climate Assessment (NCA), she described other new National Climate Assessment elements. These include analysis of decision support, interactions across systems and sectors, development of future research agendas, trends versus abrupt change, preventing maladaptation, proactive adaptation, resilience, limits to adaptation, and FAQs for more effective communication of activities. The U.S. Global Change Research Program Act mandates a periodic NCA. The current NCA is the third undertaken since 1990, and has a new goal of creating a sustained process that is ongoing and supports an increase in adaptive capacity without needing to reinvent the process each time around. The NCA has multiple elements, including assessing science and impacts, creating scenarios and tools at multiple scales, evaluating adaptation and mitigation options, and building a climate assessment community of researchers and practitioners across all regions and sectors. The NCA follows a risk framing, is ongoing, relevant, credible, accessible (electronically), supported by indicators, and broadly inclusive of public participation, Jacobs said.

Phil Mote, Director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Oregon State University

Key climate risks for the Northwest will be described in a report to be released soon.
On behalf of lead editor Meghan Dalton (OSU) and co-editor Amy Snover (UW), Philip Mote described the new Northwest Climate Assessment Report, "Climate Change in the Northwest: Implications for our Landscapes, Waters, and Communities." The 270-page report, scheduled to be published in the next couple of weeks by Island Press, was developed in parallel with the much shorter Northwest chapter of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. It summarizes the latest scientific findings about climate-related risks facing the Northwest, for the water, forests, coasts, agriculture, human health, and tribes. The report will be featured in the next CIRCulator.

Kathy Lynn, Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project, University of Oregon

“Indigenuity” connects tribal knowledge with other kinds of scientific information and data, creating new understanding for managing climate change impacts.
Kathy Lynn defined climate “indigenuity” as indigenous ingenuity and knowledge passed down over generations. In her talk, "Northwest Tribal Approaches to Climate Change," she noted that native peoples can recall that knowledge as they adapt to climate change. Because tribal culture is embedded in place, and wild foods (plants, fish, game) that are part of their culture and subsistence are also often associated with place, climate change threatens the integrity of tribal culture, economies, and communities. The threat comes from the inability of plants and animals to survive temperature or precipitation changes in place. This may result in a species dying off or migrating off tribal lands. Tribes already are contributing their traditional ecological knowledge, resource management acumen, and authority as resource trustees to better understand the implications of climate change on tribal lands and waters, as well as how to blend this understanding with other kinds of scientific knowledge and data. Tribes are also conducting their own climate impacts assessments, developing climate adaptation plans, and implementing those plans, often in collaboration or as part of climate change alliances among tribal, state, and federal governments.

The Climate CIRCulator is brought to you by The Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC). CIRC delivers science, information, and tools to decision makers responsible for the management of  resources and services in a changing climate. Our team consists of experts from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the University of Washington. CIRC is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and housed in the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) at Oregon State University. The OCCRI brochure can be downloaded  here.

The Climate CIRCulator, September, 2013, Issue 9.
Copyright © 2012,
The PNW Climate Impacts Research Consortium.
All rights reserved.