Climate Change for the North Coast: An on-going discussion

Hydrologists and others working with water pay careful attention to climate and climate change. Patterns that bring us increased or decreased precipitation should be high on the minds of anyone dependent on surface and groundwater resources. As I posted earlier, patterns generated by the El Niño and La Niña have wide-ranging impacts on how wet and cold our winters can be. Cooler, wetter weather means more precipitation that infiltrates into our aquifers and recharges our streams during the dry summer and fall months. Dryer, warmer weather obviously means the opposite.

Aleutian Low from Modis Sat. 2002Climate models have predicted that winters in the PNW may grow wetter, but ultimately warmer. For Oregonians dependent on the snowmelt providing stream flow in the dry season, this is bad news. For those of us on the coast where snow provides very little of our annual precipitation and contributes almost nothing to aquifer or stream recharge, this may not be an immediate problem. Our concern may lie with increasingly intense storms that generate more flooding and greater storm surge on the beaches and bays. Climate also has significant impacts on sea life and fisheries as witnessed by coastal hypoxia and potential salmon declines due to warmer water.

It’s time to start talking about climate change on the North Coast. That discussion might center around a couple of important themes:

1.) What are the potential scenarios and what are the impacts of these futures on coastal communities? This means gathering the existing data on climate change and extrapolating into the near, medium and long-term future. It means discussing risk and realistic ideas of the degree of risk for a given community or economic sector. It also means looking at opportunities that may result–recognizing that there will be some silver lining in any scenario.

2.) How do we plan for these scenarios, either in order to attempt to minimize direct impacts or to avoid them altogether? This is a dialogue for the communities that would be most impacted by the various scenarios and the sectors that are most at risk.

To begin this discussion, I will offer some information and sometimes provocative opinion on aspects of climate change here on H2ONC. As we move into the new year, OSU will try to offer some more concrete efforts.

One start is to ask the question of why, despite a very high profile in the news, climate change gets so little attention by Americans (and others) on a daily basis. An old friend and colleague of mine from Whitman College in Washington just published an intriguing discussion of that topic on the BBC on-line. You can find the full article by clicking here.

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