By Jason Kelley
The need to dig out from winter snows varies from year to year. Photo: Florian Straub under CC BY-SA 2.0
With the arrival of the spring equinox, many of us in the Pacific Northwest were still digging out from the snow or dealing with seasonal flooding, the impacts of a cold and snowy winter fresh in our minds. Just a couple of weeks later, news of the fire season is already starting. Along with fire and drought, extreme weather events are happening more frequently than historical records suggest. I’ve been surveying the state of weather-related affairs across the region, and summarize here some of the conditions relevant to agriculture. Continue reading
By Sonia A. Hall
A robin, commonly associated with the start of spring, during the February 9, 2019 snowstorm some people called the “snowpocalypse.” Photo: Sean O’Niell, under CC BY-ND 2.0
Now that spring is here and the cherry trees are starting to bloom, take a few minutes to check out John Abatzoglou’s article in the latest Climate CIRCulator’s Northwest Climate Currents. By relating the conditions the Northwest experienced this past February and March (and the earlier mild times we had in December and January), Dr. Abatzoglou puts our winter in context. He also explains the weather patterns that were responsible for the low temperatures and widespread low-elevation snow we saw, and why they occurred. He then goes on to discuss the broader context of how to reconcile these experiences with our understanding of how the climate is changing. Because I find this particularly fascinating, and feel it is important to hear what the experts say about it, I repost that portion of Dr. Abatzoglou’s article below, with some revisions he kindly made so that it does not feel like an excerpt (thank you, John). Read on to get a better handle on this apparent contradiction.
Excerpt, with modifications, from Dr. Abatzoglou’s article (read the entire article on the Climate CIRCulator website). Continue reading
By Karen Hills
Biochar has the potential to sequester carbon and improve the properties of soils when used as an agricultural amendment. However, biochar will only be a viable option for carbon sequestration if there are uses and viable markets for this biochar. In recent years, there has been interest in adding biochar to agricultural soils in conjunction with compost, and in some cases, “co-composting” biochar—putting the biochar in with the feedstock before the composting altogether. Read on to learn about a study led by Dr. David Gang, a professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, indicating that co-composting can provide additional benefits, both during the composting process and to the crops grown in soil amended with the resulting co-composted biochar.
Figure 1. Mark Fuchs (left), John Cleary (right) (both of the Washington Department of Ecology) and Nathan Stacey (middle, WSU) use equipment to measure gas emissions from a commercial scale co-composting experiment. Photo: Doug Collins, WSU.
By Laurie Houston
The February 9, 2019 blizzard in eastern Washington dumped 2-3 feet of snow, and winds created drifts that fully covered ditches and fences. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
If you live in the Northwest, you either experienced first-hand or certainly heard about this past week’s blizzard in eastern Washington State. This area does not usually get much precipitation over the course of a year. During the winter, they may typically get a few inches of snow in any given storm. This storm, however, took many people by surprise and dumped 2-3 feet of snow in parts of eastern Washington, while bringing in winds from the east and temperatures in the low teens. Over 1,600 dairy cows were killed in this freak blizzard. At an estimated $2,000 per head, that is a loss of $3,200,000, spread over a little more than a dozen farms. That is huge unforeseen expense for struggling farmers to absorb, and a large amount of dead animals to dispose of safely.
By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally
Farms and ranches are expected to face challenges as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. Photo: Flickr user Brent M. under CC BY 2.0.
USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) recently published a new resource for land managers and those who advise them titled, “Cultivating Climate Resilience on Farms and Ranches.” This resource outlines some of the challenges that farmers and ranchers will face as climate change leads to more extreme and variable weather. While the resource is national in scope, there is a great table that briefly explores the observed and expected changes in weather across seven U.S. regions, including the Northwest (Table 1). Continue reading
By Chris Schnepf
Different factors can contribute to homes burning in catastrophic fires, including climate change and where people choose to build. Photo: C. Schnepf.
It was impossible to watch all the media coverage of the California fires last year, with many homes and forests burning, and not be moved. When large destructive fires like this hit, people have a natural desire to put some meaning to it. A variety of voices spoke of the changes in climate as being the culprit. Some pointed to fuel build-ups that were heavier than those forests had historically. Others pointed to people moving into parts of the landscape that were very fire prone, and suggested it was only a matter time before homes burned in forest fires. As with so many things, all these explanations for the impact of the fires contain some truth. Continue reading
By Karen Hills
Picture this future scenario: it’s a hot summer day and you are sitting with some friends on their deck enjoying a cold beverage. You notice they recently replaced their deck and, interested, you ask about the decking material they used, only to find out that it’s made partially out of . . . manure from dairy cows! Surprised? Work done by researchers at Washington State University investigated this potential method for adding value to an agricultural waste product.
By Jordan Jobe, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University
In the Puget Sound Region, it’s clear that climate change impacts will involve changes in precipitation that will impact agriculture, especially agriculture in floodplain areas (Mauger et al. 2015). However, it’s not yet known how precipitation pattern changes will combine with changes in stormwater run-off and sea-level rise… and how these changes might differ between different watersheds. Flood risk reduction folks want this information so that they know how to properly size new culverts. Fish folks want this information to place and design salmon habitat restoration projects.
Nancy’s Ditch, a key agricultural ditch in the Puyallup Watershed’s Clear Creek area, is consistently slow-flowing and full of water. Photo: J. Jobe.
By Chris Schnepf
“Nature’s Notebook” is an app that can be used to collect phenology data such as flower timing. Photo: C. Schnepf.
Trying to understand how climate is changing, and how these changes affect the crop yields, forest growth, water from melting snowpacks, and all the other parts of our natural world, is very challenging. Increasingly, some of the primary tools for understanding these phenomena are models.
One of the biggest misconceptions about models is the idea they are not based in the real world – that they are just theoretical constructs, untethered to actual measurements. There are models like that – even philosophers are playing with models these days. But most of the models used in the natural sciences depend on empirical data – measurements of things like temperature, precipitation, crop yields, tree mortality, and many other attributes. Continue reading
By Gabrielle Roesch-McNally
The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) was just released on November 23, 2018. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) provide a report to Congress and the President just about every four years. This report focuses on the human welfare, societal and environmental impacts associated with climate change and variability across 10 regions in the U.S., and across 18 topics of national significance. Many collaborators across the Northwest participated in writing for the Northwest chapter. In this chapter, we outline five Key Messages that illustrate how climate change will impact different aspects of life in the Northwest (Figure 1): Continue reading