Contribute to Climate Prediction on Your Home Computer

Are you interested in climate change prediction? Though a Pew Center poll from last fall put concern for climate change at the bottom of the list of most American’s environmental priorities, many profess an interest in determining the direction of climate in this century (regardless of their opinions about the sources of climate trends).

The key issues with climate prediction are complicated at best but can boiled down to three important themes:

  • Can we find the range of change that can be expected under various scenarios?  How warm can we get and where will that warming be most felt?  Will it be 1 degree Celsius or 7?  This is largely a question of understanding the physics of our planet, sun and atmospheric “skin.”
  • Can we determine the sensitivity of the planet’s various systems to change?  This is a question of where warming will occur and how it will impact ecosystems, agriculture, oceans, or specific weather patterns.
  • Can we get to climate prediction that balances appropriate scale against societal relevance?  This is an important question because most of the common climate change reports show results that are of fairly course resolution. That is to say, when you look at your home, community or even state on a climate change map, it is usually just a tiny dot on a big spot on the map that is different in 20, 50 or 100 years time.  Getting the spots–or more accurately, the grids–to be smaller is important for answering questions about local temperature, rainfall and other predicted changes. These grids have to be big enough, however, to encompass change information.

Answering these questions is done by modeling the climate system (solar energy inputs, clouds, heat-trapping gases, ocean absorption, vegetation, snow and ice, etc.) against the historical records–some really old such as ice core or tree ring data or more modern like weather records since 1870–and current trends in, for example, volcanic eruptions and greenhouse gas emissions. Until recently, most of that was done by enormous–“super”–computers that could make the millions–and billions–of different computations happen quickly and repeatedly. Continue reading

Happy New Year: Snowpack and Water

Record snows this fall and winter are looking good for spring and summer stream flows. Even the northern Coast Range has been relatively wet and cold this year. A good snowy winter means our ability to predict how much water will be in streams in the spring is better.

What does all of this fluffy white stuff this mean besides good skiing? It means good sources of cool water that slowly infiltrates into subsurface aquifers, recharges streams by slow trickle instead of flood. It also means a longer period of flow into the spring and summer months. All of this is good for we humans and salmon stocks who prefer cold water. Deep snowpack is good reservoirs, springs and groundwater supplies we depend upon at lower elevations too.

Check out the National Snow Analysis page by the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center–a product of the NOAA National Weather Service. Below is our Snow Water Equivalent from the fall through today (1/3/11).  This means that if you melted the snow from our mountains instantly, it would result in a predetermined amount of liquid water (e.g. 36″ of snow = 3.6″ of water).

So as you chain up to drive over the passes this winter, praise that snow for its spring and summertime benefits.

Geography and Freshwater Awareness

National Geographic was always a favorite magazine of mine as a kid and as an adult. As a self-professed geography geek, I am indebted to those folks for doing a us all great service by promoting awareness of our world, it’s resources, places, and people.  It seems they’ve taken the largely forgotten “National Geography Awareness Week” (proclaimed by President H.W. Bush in the late 1980s)  and brought it into the digital world.  And more thrilling to a water-focused geography-geek, here is their slick web page, resources, and short video highlighting the importance of freshwater resources to ourselves and our globe. Check it out by going here. Enjoy!

Saturday 10/23 watershed events highlight Meds, Knotweed and Stormwater

Saturday is a busy one for those of us with an interest in watersheds and water! Come sample one or more of these three regional events that were you can gain knowledge and aid the health of NW Oregon watersheds.

1. All About Knotweed: Come learn more about woody knotweeds and how to manage an invasion. Participants will get hands-on identification of the plant types, learn plant and invasion biology, learn to create a management plan and learn the latest treatment options. This class is offered in cooperation with Oregon Open Campus. Participants may sign up for Continuing Education Credits for Pesticide Applicators via Tillamook Bay Community College.

When: Saturday, October 23rd, 8:45 -10:30 AM
Where: Tillamook Bay Community College, Room 104/105.
Cost: $20.00
Call 503-842-3433 for more information or to register and pay.

2. Tillamook County Medicine Collection Event: Tillamook County Solid Waste Department is sponsoring a pharmaceuticals collection event. Keep your unused and expired over-the-counter and prescription meds out of our environment and away from accidental or intentional misuse by adults, teens, and children.

When: Saturday, October 23, 9:00 AM-12:00 PM
Where: Tillamook County Fairgrounds, Sheriff’s Department Booth
For more information contact Jennifer Purcell at (503) 814-3975 or Kaylee Haertel at (503) 322-2222.

3. Welcome the Rain: Portland-area residents can find out about a variety of ways to manage their landscapes, rain and stormwater to benefit the environment during this annual event sponsored by East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Geared to address the community’s growing desire for more information on urban stormwater issues, Welcome the Rain! offers information and resources for participants to explore ways to help improve water quality for people, fish and wildlife. OSU will be there to talk about opportunities become a Master Watershed Steward. http://www.emswcd.org/welcome-the-rain

When: Saturday, October 23,  10am – 3pm
Where: Atkinson Elementary – 5800 SE Division, Portland OR 97206
Call EMSWCD for more information:  (503) 222-7645

Global 'evapotranspiration' changing: hydrologic cycle altered

Courtesy of OSU Media Services:

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The soils in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere, including major portions of Australia, Africa and South America, have been drying up in the past decade, a group of researchers conclude in the first major study to ever examine “evapotranspiration” on a global basis.

Most climate models have suggested that evapotranspiration, which is the movement of water from the land to the atmosphere, would increase with global warming. The new research, published online this week in the journal Nature, found that’s exactly what was happening from 1982 to the late 1990s.

But in 1998, this significant increase in evapotranspiration – which had been seven millimeters per year – slowed dramatically or stopped. In large portions of the world, soils are now becoming drier than they used to be, releasing less water and offsetting some moisture increases elsewhere.

Due to the limited number of decades for which data are available, scientists say they can’t be sure whether this is a natural variability or part of a longer-lasting global change. But one possibility is that on a global level, a limit to the acceleration of the hydrological cycle on land has already been reached.

If that’s the case, the consequences could be serious.

Continue reading

Keep those old meds out of the water!

NB: Not only does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency think that pharmaceuticals are bad in water, but a partnership of Tillamook County organizations are interested in having residents remove those old medicines from local medicine cabinets and deliver them to our second annual collection event on October 23rd, at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds, Sheriff’s booth, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Stay tuned to H2ONcoast for more details and reminders.

drug take back in Tillamook County

A pharmaceutical take back in Tillamook County

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lending its support and expertise for drug take-back events sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The events will take place at 1,700 sites around the country on Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Citizens may bring unwanted solid prescription and over-the-counter medicines to any of these locations so they may be disposed of safely. Liquids, such as cough syrup will not be accepted.

Unused drugs that sit on shelves around the home may present a danger to people as well as ecosystems. Removing unused medications from households can help prevent intentional misuse and unintentional poisonings of children and pets.

Dumping the medication down the drain or flushing it down the toilet can become a source of water contamination. EPA continues to investigate whether such contamination adversely impacts human health or aquatic life.

Find a collection site near you:
http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/takeback/

Learn more about pharmaceuticals as pollutants: http://www.epa.gov/ppcp/

Cycle of Insanity: The Water Cycle by Surfrider Foundation

Members of the Surfrider Foundation have put together a rather entertaining, but largely acurate cartoon on the water cycle and its mis-management. While I have problems with the way a couple of the items are presented, I found the video largely entertaining and well done. I think it’s good enough to explain some of the concepts that I like to spend time on: Low Impact Development, water conservation, and wetlands preservation. I appreciate the video’s global perspective and the producers’ explicit strategy to entertain while informing us.

My only substantial critique for this video is that seems to spend much of its 20 minutes dwelling on the urban side of coastal water management–and by that, I mean that large mass of urbanity to our south: California. In their defense, the producers are working out of the confines of the very urban San Diego and Los Angeles areas and are aiming this squarely at people living in these kinds of coastal cities.   All that said, I have embedded it here for your enjoyment.

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.

Sticky Water: a new insight into PNW water cycle

Typical water cycle in the PNW: some old assumptions included.

Typical water cycle in the PNW: some old assumptions included.

OSU’s Jeff McDonnell, the current director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds has been up to some great research lately in collaboration with other researchers in watershed hydrology (how water moves through watersheds). The results of one of his projects was recently featured in Science Daily: Water hits and sticks: Findings challenge a century of assumptions about soil hydrology.  Jeff is quoted here discussing how important this finding is for water researchers:

“Water in mountains such as the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington basically exists in two separate worlds,” said Jeff McDonnell, an OSU distinguished professor and holder of the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in the OSU College of Forestry. “We used to believe that when new precipitation entered the soil, it mixed well with other water and eventually moved to streams. We just found out that isn’t true.”

“This could have enormous implications for our understanding of watershed function,” he said. “It challenges about 100 years of conventional thinking.”

That 100 years of thinking basically says that water moves through the atmosphere, falls as rain or snow, and a significant portion is absorbed by the soil, plants and other organisms before it is divided between ground and surface water or returns to the atmosphere through the process of evapotranspiration.  Jeff’s research points to the fact that some of that water just stays put–and replenishes the plants, not moving deeper into the soil where we assumed it fed streams or groundwater. This means the first rains of the year are less effective in replenishing water that we humans quite often assume is ours to tap.

Yes, this is a small detail but important when you think about how significant the water cycle is for people, fish and streams in the Pacific Northwest!

2008 Water Year in Review

As the year draws to a close here on the North Coast, a frigid air mass to our east is locked in losing battle with the marine layer for supremacy.  With the exception of Astoria, most of the communities along the coast have been spared snow since the weekend. While more is predicted for this week, it looks as though the arctic air will soon move to east and allow our communities to travel and communicate with those on the other side of the Coast Range.

So far, our new water year (October 2008 to October 2009) started out mild and relatively dry. While cold, December precipitation has now topped only 7 inches, still nearly half of the average for the month. Year to date, we have only received 65 inches vs. our normal 90 inches.  Since November has been only one major flood event on North Coast streams and that event paled in comparison to 1996, 2006 and 2007 floods.  According to the National Climate Prediction Center, ocean and atmospheric conditions on the west coast of North America have a 50% probability of being affected by mild La Niña status, meaning a tendency to be cooler and wetter than normal. So far, the former is partly true but we have yet to see the wetter conditions that sometimes come with a mild La Niña.

While the 2007-2008 water year saw significant flooding events–including the Great Coastal Gale of 2007–precipitation totals are still at least 16 inches below normal.  Compared to this time last year, the North Coast is relatively dry and mild.

H2ONC will take a holiday break until the new calendar year. I hope that everyone reading this will have a happy, safe, and restful time spent with family and friends.

EPA Issues Report on Climate Change & Water

On Oct 2 the US Environmenal Protection Agency eleased  a strategy that outlines national actions to manage programs and invest resources to reduce adverse effects on water from climate change .  The full draft document can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/water/climatechange/.

The document’s executive summary outlines the following areas of concern with regards to water resources planning and management:

1. Increases in Water Pollution Problems: Warmer air temperatures will result in warmer water. Warmer waters will:
• hold less dissolved oxygen making instances of low oxygen levels and “hypoxia” (i.e., when dissolved oxygen declines to the point where aquatic species can no longer survive) more likely; and

• foster harmful algal blooms and change the toxicity of some pollutants.
The number of waters recognized as “impaired” is likely to increase, even if pollution
levels are stable.

2. More Extreme Water-Related Events: Heavier precipitation in tropical and inland storms will increase the risks of flooding, expand floodplains, increase the variability of streamflows (i.e., higher high flows and lower low flows), increase the velocity of water during high flow periods and increase erosion. These changes will have adverse effects on water quality and aquatic system health. For example, increases in intense rainfall result in more nutrients, pathogens, and toxins being washed into waterbodies.

3. Changes to the Availability of Drinking Water Supplies: In some parts of the country, droughts, changing patterns of precipitation and snowmelt, and increased water loss due to evaporation as a result of warmer air temperatures will result in changes to the availability of water for drinking and for use for agriculture and
industry. In other areas, sea level rise and salt water intrusion will have the same effect. Warmer air temperatures may also result in increased demands on community water supplies and the water needs for agriculture, industry, and energy production are likely to increase.

4. Waterbody Boundary Movement and Displacement: Rising sea levels will move ocean and estuarine shorelines by inundating lowlands, displacing wetlands, and altering the tidal range in rivers and bays. Changing water flow to lakes and streams, increased evaporation, and changed precipitation in some areas, will affect the size of wetlands and lakes. Water levels in the Great Lakes are expected to fall.

5. Changing Aquatic Biology: As waters become warmer, the aquatic life they now support will be replaced by other species better adapted to the warmer water (i.e., cold water fish will be replaced by warm water fish). This process, however, will occur at an uneven pace disrupting aquatic system health and allowing non-indigenous and/or invasive species to become established. In the long-term (i.e., 50 years), warmer water and changing flows may result in significant deterioration of aquatic ecosystem health in some areas.

6. Collective Impacts on Coastal Areas: Most areas of the United States will see several of the water-related effects of climate change, but coastal areas are likely to see multiple impacts of climate change. These impacts include sea level rise, increased damage from floods and storms, changes in drinking water supplies, and increasing temperature and acidification of the oceans.

These overlapping impacts of climate change make protecting water resources in coastal areas especially challenging.