Category Archives: Climate Modeling

Are There More Multiyear Snow Droughts in Our Future?

By Adrienne Marshall

Hiker in a high elevation area, with a small lake and ridges with patchy snow in the background

Late May in the Sierra Nevadas in 2015, a low snowpack year that enabled spring recreation in the high country. Photo: Darren Bagnall.

As an environmental scientist, I’ve done plenty of hiking in the western U.S., always with a map, water bottle and list of water sources. In dry areas it’s always smart to ration water until you get to a new source. Sometimes a stream has dried up for the season, or a pond is too scummy to drink from, so your supply has to stretch further than planned. On one memorable hike, I found that a water source was dry. The next one, three miles later, was dry too. And the one after that had a dead bear carcass in it. While one dry water source was tolerable, several in a row created a serious problem.

Something similar is happening to snow resources in the western United States. Scientists have long known that the warming temperatures associated with climate change are diminishing the region’s snowpack, with more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow. That’s a problem because snowpack is a critical resource, acting as a natural reservoir that stores winter precipitation. Are we likely to face several low snowpack years in a row? Continue reading

How Global Change May Impact the Food, Energy, and Water Sectors in the Columbia River Basin

By Matt Yourek, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Washington State University

Global-scale changes—economic, sociological, climatological—have important ramifications for local communities. For example, land-use change alters the balance of food, energy, and water resources within a basin. The research group I am part of is interested in understanding the future impact of land-use change in the Columbia River Basin. This requires first understanding how land use is expected to change, and then exploring the impacts of these changes on the different sectors.

Future changes in the Columbia River Basin

Tractor and mower moving away, leaving a row of cut grass

Figure 1. Harvesting switchgrass with disc mower. Photo from Farm-Energy, April 3, 2019 (https://farm-energy.extension.org/switchgrass-panicum-virgatum-for-biofuel-production/).

The Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) simulates supply and demand of fuel and agro-forestry commodities at the national level under a set of standardized greenhouse gas emission scenarios known as representative concentration pathways (RCPs). In the model, markets in food and fuel determine how land use changes. Biofuel is among the industries expected to benefit from low carbon emission policies (Figure 1). To be meaningful within the Columbia River Basin, the broad-scale changes in land use for biofuels and other crops must be disaggregated to a finer scale. Continue reading

Check it out: “Skeptical Science” a Climate Science Resource for Extension Professionals

By Chris Schnepf

Screen shot showing a list of 6 climate myths and "what the science says" response links.

The Skeptical Science website outlines nearly 200 common climate change myths, and summarizes scientific responses to each assertion, with links to cited research. Screen shot from https://skepticalscience.com/argument.php.

One of the biggest challenges facing extension professionals is how to address climate change, especially in the context of people asking questions or making assertions that challenge climate science. Many of these questions have some kind of “gotcha” premise or multi-layered assumptions which must be pulled out and addressed individually to respond.

These kinds of questions are difficult to deal with even on comparatively simple topics like managing a specific insect pest, but they are even more challenging in an arena as complex as climate change, especially since many extension educators do not have as much depth of training as they do in a specific discipline such as agronomy or forestry.  Continue reading

What Specialty Crops Might Thrive in the Northwest in the Future?

By Lauren Parker, University of California, Davis (formerly University of Idaho)

Closeup of blueberry plants, with fruit

Figure 1. Blueberries, a crop that has seen rapid growth in the Northwest recently. Photo: Jacqui Osbourne under CC BY-NC 2.0.

From Washington apple orchards to Oregon blueberry fields and Idaho’s burgeoning vineyards, the Northwest is well-known for its agricultural abundance (Figure 1). Specialty crop production across the three states is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and, like virtually all agricultural systems across the region, will be challenged by climate change (Houston et al. 2018).

Climate change is also projected to impact California specialty crop production (Lobell et al. 2006), lowering yields of some crops and perhaps entirely eliminating the production of others. As warming temperatures reshape where the climate is suitable for perennial crops in California, some specialty crop growers in cooler regions like the Northwest may benefit. Continue reading

Are Efficient Irrigation Technologies a Winning Solution in the Yakima River Basin?

By Keyvan Malek, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University

In an earlier AgClimate.net article I discussed studies that have looked into the effects of investments in efficient irrigation technology on other water-related sectors. I argued that many studies have concluded that such investments might have negative implications for other water users, such as farmers or energy producers. I also mentioned that we were studying this issue, and promised to report our findings. This article and our soon-to-be-published paper deliver on that promise.

Why we did what we did 

Closeup of a drip irrigation line, with a drop of water falling onto soil covered with crop residue

Questions still remain around the impacts across a basin and for multiple water use sectors of more efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation. Photo: Joby Elliott under CC BY 2.0.

Among agro-hydrologists—people who study the dynamics of water in agricultural systems—it is a widely accepted fact that one farmer’s investment in new, irrigation efficiency technologies negatively affects other farmers and sectors. However, questions remain, as past studies have not explicitly quantified the impacts of new irrigation systems on other sectors. What is the implication for overall agricultural productivity? How do efficient systems impact the ecological condition of the basin? How do energy production and demand change as people switch to more efficient systems? Are there any social implications? And do these productivity, ecological, and social implications change as the climate changes? Continue reading

The Forest Service’s Climate Adaptation Publication is a Worthy Resource for All Landowners

By Chris Schnepf

The cover of the General Technical Report

Halofsky, Jessica E.; Peterson, David L.; Dante-Wood, S. Karen; Hoang, Linh; Ho, Joanne J.; Joyce, Linda A., eds. 2018. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains (Parts 1 and 2). Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-374. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Foresters were among the first to start thinking about the possible effects of climate change, in part because of the long-term nature of forests—foresters commonly reflect on management issues on 50 or even 150-year time scales. Because forests are also highly valued for other benefits in addition to commodity production (i.e., wood), those managing forests are also particularly aware of the long-term effects of their management on water, wildlife, soil, and other ecosystem benefits.

One of the best examples of that broad, long, view is a recent new publication titled “Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains,” a two-part, 495-page document produced by the USDA Forest Service). The publication is the result of a process that had extensive involvement from Forest Service personnel, non-governmental partners, and universities in a series of 2- and 3-day workshops throughout the Northern Region of the Forest Service (including one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). Continue reading

Engaging Climate Science through Citizen Science Apps

By Chris Schnepf

Queencup beadlily flowering on a forest floor

“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

Check it out: It’s not only the timing of water supply that’s shifting

By Sonia A. Hall

Irrigated pasture in Blaine County, Idaho. Water demand for irrigation is expected to start earlier in the season as the climate changes. Photo: Mark Goebel under CC BY 2.0.

Turns out that understanding how changes in climate are affecting the demand for water for irrigation in the Columbia River Basin is really important for our overall understanding of how water use and management may need to change in the future. Check out this Washington State University newsletter article on a recent study into this topic, led by AgClimate’s sometime-contributor Kirti Rajagopalan.

 

Reference:

Rajagopalan, K., Chinnayakanahalli, K.J., Stockle, C.O., Nelson, R.L., Kruger, C.E., Brady, M.P., Malek, K., Dinesh, S.T., Barber, M.E., Hamlet, A.F. and Yorgey, G.G., 2018. Impacts of Near‐Term Climate Change on Irrigation Demands and Crop Yields in the Columbia River Basin. Water Resources Research, 54(3), pp.2152-2182. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/2017WR020954  

Check it out: The arid west is expanding

By Sonia A. Hall

Landscapes west and east of the 100th meridian. Left: Rangeland country in Idaho. Photo: Sonia A. Hall. Right: Soybean crops in Iowa. Photo: Parshotam Lal Tandon, under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The contrast between the arid west—rangelands, wheat, conifer forests, irrigated agriculture—and the Midwest’s Great Plains—corn, soybean, prairies—is well known. There is a somewhat abrupt line separating arid from humid, close to the 100th meridian. That line is now shifting, as climate change affects temperatures, precipitation, and wind patterns that control that arid-to-humid line. Take a look at a recent study from Columbia University on how the line is shifting eastward from the 100th meridian. And you might want to start with the blog article “The 100th Meridian, Where the Great Plains Begin, May Be Shifting.

 

References:

Seager, R., N. Lis, J. Feldman, M. Ting, A.P. Williams, J. Nakamura, H. Liu, and N. Henderson, 2018: Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part I: The Story So Far. Earth Interact., 22, 1–22, https://doi.org/10.1175/EI-D-17-0011.1 

Seager, R., J. Feldman, N. Lis, M. Ting, A.P. Williams, J. Nakamura, H. Liu, and N. Henderson, 2018: Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part II: The Meridian Moves East. Earth Interact., 22, 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1175/EI-D-17-0012.1 

OneNOAA CSSR series

Beginning Thursday, July 12 at 9:00 am Pacific Standard Time – and occurring weekly at that time through Tuesday, August 28 – the OneNOAA seminar series will be hosting an 8-part suite of talks on different aspects of the National Climate Assessment 4 Volume I – the Climate Science Special Report.  This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the latest climate science from some of the nation’s most eminent scientists!

  • Thurs, July 12: Climate Science: What’s New? – Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech University)
  • Thurs, July 19: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change from the CSSR – U.S. Perspective – Tom Knutson (NOAA-GFDL)
  • Thurs, July 26: Droughts, Floods, and Wildfire – Michael Wehner (DOE-LBNL)
  • Thurs, Aug 2: Climate Potential Surprises – Compound Extremes and Tipping Elements – Radley Horton (Columbia University / Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)
  • Thurs, Aug 9: Climate Long-Term Climate Mitigation Perspectives and the 2°C Objective – Ben DeAngelo (NOAA)
  • Thurs, Aug 16: The Causes and Consequences of a Rapidly Changing Arctic – Patrick Taylor (NASA-Langley Research Center)
  • Thurs, Aug 23: Climate Tidings of the Tides – Billy Sweet (NOAA)
  • Tues, Aug 28: The Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment: An Overview of Volume 1 – Don Wuebbles (University of Illinois)