By Aaron Whittemore, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University
The Roza-Moxee pump station during the 2015 drought. Photo: Tim Poppleton/OCR
The Columbia River Basin has grappled with limited water supplies for decades. This was most noticeable during 2015, when we experienced severe summertime drought across large areas of Washington State, which reduced the amount of water available to meet the region’s demands. The 2015 drought and other recent occurrences of lower water availability are representative of a warmer future with lessening snowpack and earlier snowmelt. In fact, Washington is expected to experience drought again this summer due to rapidly melting snowpack and low precipitation forecasts, underscoring the prevalence of water supply issues for the state. Continue reading
By David I. Gustafson, Adjunct Research Faculty at Washington State University
This article is part of a series, Climate Friendly Fruit & Veggies, highlighting work from the Fruit & Vegetable Supply Chains: Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Opportunities (F&V CAMO) project, a collaborative research study co-led by investigators at the University of Florida and the Agriculture & Food Systems Institute. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Arkansas, University of Illinois, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services, and Washington State University. This project seeks to identify and test climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in fruit and vegetable supply chains.
Water. H 2 O. It’s the dominant molecule of our lives. We are 60% water (on average). Life as we know it is only possible because our planet has so much water. We can survive a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. The oceans are believed to have formed around 4 billion years ago, and so are nearly as old as the planet itself. The hydrologic cycle—the series of processes by which water evaporates from those oceans, condenses as clouds, and then returns to the earth as freshwater—forms the primary basis for our existence.
Figure 1. Comparison of the ‘new normal’ annual precipitation averages (1991-2020) with the previous 30-year averages (1981-2010). Source: NOAA.
Water is actually the most important greenhouse gas: without water in the atmosphere, the average temperature of our planet would be around 0°F… a mammoth version of those chic, spherical ice ‘cubes.’ But the average temperature of the earth is 60°F and climbing. As the world’s oceans continue to warm, water evaporates more rapidly, and the hydrologic cycle accelerates. All that water must come back down somewhere, so annual precipitation levels across the planet are also increasing. Continue reading
By Karen Hills, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University
Two reports on climate change impacts translated into Spanish, helping to spread this information to a portion of the population that may otherwise have limited access. Photo: Climate Impacts Group
The recent heatwave in the Pacific Northwest has many of us thinking about climate change and what life may look like as the region warms. The Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington (UW) recently announced the release of two publications in Spanish, helping to spread this information to a portion of the population that may otherwise have less access to this information.
The reports, Sin Tiempo Que Perder and Cambiando las Líneas de Nieve y las Líneas de Costa, were originally published in 2018 and 2020, and written for a general audience. Continue reading
By Nicole Bell, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University
Heat wave damage to a commonly grown blackberry cultivar, Columbia Star (photo taken July 1, 2021). Photo courtesy of Dr. Bernadine Strik.
It wasn’t just hot in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) during the last week of June. It was extraordinarily hot. Temperatures at Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Aurora, Oregon, reached a high of 113°F on June 28, with a nighttime low of 85°F. It wasn’t just one day of scorching temperatures, though—much of the PNW experienced more than three consecutive days of highs in the triple digits, with lows staying above 65°F. With temperatures peaking in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, at 121°F, some outlets are calling this multi-day event a heat dome. Growers are feeling the impact of June’s high temperatures. How does this type of heat affect staple and specialty crops, and how can the agricultural industry in the Pacific Northwest best prepare for events like this to come? Read on for some insights from the June heat dome.
A wide variety of crops were impacted by the record-setting heat, notably berries, cherries, and even some vegetables across the region. Continue reading
By Jacob Powell, General Agricultural Extension Agent for Sherman and Wasco Counties, Oregon State University
Wildfires directly impact agricultural production and the lives of those who live and work in agricultural areas. Photo: Jacob Powell.
The primary focus of wildfire preparedness and prevention in the past has been in forests and the wildland urban interface. However, 75% of the area consumed by wildfires across the U.S. is in non-forested ecosystems, much of it covering rangelands and crops. Wildfires directly impact agricultural production and the lives of those who live and work in agricultural areas. Farmers and their employees are also heavily involved in efforts to control wildfires, even with potentially direct risks to their health and safety. I discuss these impacts, as well as options that are available to improve preparedness. Continue reading
Q&A with Anders Carlson and Aaron Hartz of the Oregon Glaciers Institute
By Paris Edwards
Did you know that the Northwest is the most glacier-rich region in the lower 48? Glaciers throughout the region provide essential cool, late-summer water for irrigation, fish, and for our taps. Their fate under warming climate conditions, however, is shaky. Even though glacial melt water is crucial to ecosystems and economies alike, we know shockingly little about how much water glaciers provide or where it flows.
Anders Carlson (left) and Aaron Hartz (right) are founders of the new Oregon Glaciers Institute. Photo credit: Jason Sotomayor.
Aaron Hartz and Anders Carlson, founders of the new Oregon Glaciers Institute, are friends, scientists, and potentially part mountain goat. Their mission is to document and study the causes of change for Oregon’s poorly understood and undervalued glaciers, by foot and by photo, and to provide projections of each glacier’s future. Both Oregon State University alumni, collectively they bring decades of full-spectrum knowledge and experience that spans professorial expertise, and the hard-won nitty-gritty knowhow that comes from avid exploration of high alpine terrain. I talked to these intrepid scientists and adventurers about what inspired their work and what they are discovering about the current and future health of one of the region’s essential water resources.
By Karen Hills
Figure 1. The Pacific Northwest was hit by an historic flood in February 1996. Corps dams were put to the test and held back as much of the flood waters as possible, but too much rain fell in the valley below the dam. As a result, many communities in western Oregon felt the impacts of the flood waters. Photo: Portland Corps under CC BY 2.0.
Previous posts on AgClimate.net have focused on research related to anticipated climate change impacts on water availability and timing of available irrigation water in the Columbia River Basin, given the concern with having sufficient water to support the range of uses in the region. But is too little water the only concern? Laura Queen of the Oregon State University Climate Change Research Institute is the author of a recently published paper titled “Ubiquitous increases in flood magnitude in the Columbia River Basin under climate change.” Queen and her colleagues explain how in systems dominated by snowmelt, as is common in the Pacific Northwest, observational studies have shown consistent changes toward earlier spring streamflow and lower summer streamflow. This change has important implications for water users in the region. Less frequently discussed are the anticipated impacts on flooding (Figure 1), which is second only to fire in federal disaster declarations brought about by natural disasters in the Pacific Northwest. Continue reading
By Sonia A. Hall
Fire danger was considered extreme on and around Labor Day 2020. Close to the Beachie Fire in Marion County, OR. Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation, under CC BY 2.0.
Most of us probably agree that 2020 was an unprecedented year in many ways. Much of the western U.S. will remember 2020 for, among other things, the extensive fires that burned across many states. One of those states is Oregon, where climatic and weather conditions converged during Labor Day to enable large fires across the western slopes of the Cascades. Check out climatologists John Abatzoglou, David Rupp, and Larry O’Neill’s article titled Climate Enabling Conditions and Drivers of the Western Oregon Wildfires of 2020. They discuss the conditions that enabled these fires, and provide some historical context for their occurrence. Spoiler alert: their concluding paragraph states that “The best science available indicates that the conditions that enable large wildfires and wildfire seasons will become more common as a result of climate change and past and current land management and land use.” Many communities are heeding this information and working towards reducing vulnerabilities and improving resilience, to better deal with future fires. Please share with us and AgClimate.net readers those tools, resources and information you have found useful in such efforts. You can comment on this post, or contact us via the Ask A Question tab.
By Paris Edwards
Headwater streams originate in mountainous areas and add critical snowmelt to summer and early fall stream flows. Slow and steady melt off of winter snowpack provides water during the dry season when crops need it most. Photo by Picasa, Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Our understanding of regional climate change effects today will be used to inform management, policy, and the new scientific endeavors of tomorrow. With this in mind, a team of doctoral students from the Water Resources Department at the University of Idaho in Moscow carried out a systematic review of all peer-reviewed studies through 2016 (550 of them) related to climate change in headwater regions of the Columbia River Basin. The purpose of the review was to explore what aspects of climate change impacts on water availability have been well studied, and where additional research is still needed (Marshall et al. 2020). We focused on mountain headwater regions because these critical water-generating areas are vulnerable to increasingly warm winter temperatures that contribute to snowpack losses and increased variability in the timing and volume of water available for multiple uses. Water availability supports values we care about and communities in our region, including irrigation; the future of irrigated agriculture in the Basin depends on water, and at least 20% of surface supply in the Basin is generated from melted snow. Continue reading
By Kevin Hyde, Puget Sound Partnership
Stormwater pollution impacts many of the things Puget Sound residents hold dear. Photo: Washington State Department of Ecology.
Stormwater runoff, particularly from roadways, is one of the leading sources of water pollution in Puget Sound. Stormwater pollution impacts people and ecosystems in different ways. Many of the things Puget Sound residents hold dear, like swimming along rivers and beaches, harvesting and eating shellfish, and fishing for salmon, are directly affected by stormwater pollution. The Puget Sound Partnership works with many groups to tackle this complex problem, and polluted stormwater runoff is a focus of the Toxics in Fish Implementation Strategy, a recovery plan that aims to reduce the levels and impacts of contaminants on Puget Sound aquatic life.
Jordan Jobe, with Washington State University Extension, points out in a recent article that stormwater pollution also has implications for local food systems and farmers. She highlights the need to better understand the impact of stormwater runoff on agricultural viability in near-urban agricultural areas, where it may impact soil health, or contaminate crops. Continue reading