Applied Research

Applied research at the Climate Impacts Group incorporates both the physical and social sciences to provide a foundational understanding of how climate variability and change affect natural systems, people, and the built environment, and how communities and organizations might adapt to those impacts. We work closely with stakeholders in pursuit of this work to identify critical knowledge gaps about climate, climate impacts, and managing climate risks. Examples of current and recent applied research projects are described below (lead Climate Impacts Group staff/affiliates noted).

Habitat Corridors and Connectivity | Ecosystems and Species | Hydrology | Landslides, Lightning, and Windstorms | Coastal Adaptation

Habitat Corridors and Connectivity

A Collaborative Assessment of Climate-connectivity Needs in the Washington-British Columbia Transboundary Region

Maintaining and restoring ecological connectivity is a primary conservation need and the most frequently recommended climate adaptation strategy for biodiversity conservation. However, little guidance exists regarding where and how to connect fragmented habitats to facilitate climate-driven shifts in species ranges, or how to anticipate and address climate impacts to existing habitat linkages. This project helps address that need by engaging science-management partnerships to inform the decision-making of land and wildlife managers tasked with maintaining connected, resilient ecosystems in the transboundary region of British Columbia and Washington State. (Krosby)

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Sage-Grouse Habitat and Connectivity in a Changing Landscape and Climate

This research aims to understand how the landscape and climate influence sage grouse habitat suitability and population viability in eastern Washington. Researchers are using genetic sampling techniques and occurrence data to model landscape permeability to movement and gene flow for sage grouse in the study area, and then applying those models to understand how landscape and climate change might affect the population in the future. (Shirk)

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Ecosystems and Species

Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) Habitat and Population Trends in a Changing Landscape and Climate

The marbled murrelet is an endangered seabird that forages in coastal waters from Alaska to California. The foraging and nesting success of murrelets is highly sensitive to climate influences on the marine and terrestrial environment. Researchers from state and federal agencies in Washington, Oregon, and California are modeling the influence of climate variability in the Pacific Ocean on the marine food web in coastal waters and then seeking to understand how these changes in foraging conditions are driving trends in at-sea abundance and distribution of marbled murrelets. (Shirk)

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Spatial Distribution of Tree Genetic Adaptations to Climate Now and in the Future

Local adaptations driven by genetic selection over time make it possible for tree species to inhabit broad climate envelopes. In our rapidly changing climate, however, the slow process of natural selection and gene flow may not keep pace and therefore create a mismatch between the near-future climate and local adaptations in the population today. The goal of this project is to map genetic adaptations to climate in the genomes of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii), map the spatial range of these local adaptations, and model the ability of these adaptations to move through the population over time in a changing climate. (Shirk)

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Forest Management Tools to Maximize Snow Retention under Climate Change

This research will map climate-forest snow interactions across the Pacific Northwest, predicting how forest change is likely to affect snow duration in different locations and testing those predictions against careful observations from field sites and a network of citizen scientists. Results from this project will help managers to act strategically to maximize snow retention (protecting forests in some areas while opening gaps in others), providing more water later in the season for hydropower, agriculture, and fish flows. (Lundquist, Snover)

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Estimates of Twenty-First Century Flood Risk in the Pacific Northwest Based on Regional Climate Model Simulations

To improve the simulation of future extreme storms and their effect on precipitation and runoff production over complex topography in the PNW and Intermountain West, researchers applied regional climate model (RCM) simulations for streamflow projections over the PNW. The RCM provides explicit, physically based simulations of seasonality, size, location, and intensity of historical and future extreme storms, including atmospheric rivers. Results show substantial increases in future flood risk in many PNW river basins in the early fall.  (Salathé)

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Incorporating Spatial Heterogeneity in Temperature into Climate Vulnerability Assessments for Coastal Pacific Rivers

Water temperature, a main driver of ecological processes in streams and rivers, is projected to warm throughout the Pacific Northwest as a result of climate change, further stressing the freshwater biota. For 30 large rivers throughout the lower portion of the NPLCC domain, remotely sensed spatially continuous maximum water temperature data will be used to map the location of cold water patches, identify the landscape and hydroclimatic drivers of cold water patches in the rivers, and determine how detection of cold water patches in the rivers depends on the spatial resolution of the water temperature data.  (Lawler, Lee)

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Modeling of Glaciers and Associated Hydrologic Impacts in the Skagit River Basin

During late summer, glacial meltwater is an essential component of the water budget of the Skagit River as it provides cold flows that are critical for endangered fish species after runoff from snowpack has subsided. Glacier inventories in the Pacific Northwest have shown dramatic changes in glaciers over the 20th century, and additional warming is expected to further reduce glacial mass and meltwater in the Skagit River basin.  The purpose of this study is to provide Seattle City Light with a model component of the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM) that can simulate the effects of climate on glacier mass and meltwater in the Skagit River basin. (Istanbulluoglu)

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Wetland Hydrology and Adaptation Options for the Columbia Plateau

The intent of this project is to fill critical information gaps in support of wetland conservation efforts in the Columbia Plateau ecoregion under a changing climate. First, this project will provide consistent, wall-to-wall data on wetland location, historical hydrologic dynamics, and projected climate change impacts on hydrologic dynamics. Secondly, this project will work with managers in using these data to develop recommendations for climate-smart conservation of wetlands across the Columbia Plateau. (Lee)

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Landslides, Lightning, and Windstorms

Regional Modeling of Windstorms and Lightning

Through the use of global climate and regional weather models this research will provide Seattle City Light with information regarding how climate change may affect windstorm and lightning frequency in the area of western Washington containing City Light’s generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure. (Salathé, Mauger)

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Predicting Climate Change Impacts on Shallow Landslide Risk at Regional Scales

This research, integrating both landslide and hydroclimate research, will develop an empirical static model and integrate it with an innovative numerical dynamic model, which will be used for regional landslide prediction. This work will aid resource management decision making and will be incorporated into K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education. This project is being developed in close collaboration with state and federal agencies, who can put the results to use in land management. (Istanbulluoglu, Strauch)

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Coastal Adaptation

Successful Adaptation to Climate Change

Anticipation of climate change impacts in coastal regions has elevated adaptation to climate change on the agenda of federal, state, and local policymakers. To decide on a particular course of action, and garner the necessary political and social support to commit scarce resources to climate change adaptation, resource managers and planners must define goals, assess trade-offs among different options, and agree with their stakeholders on a preferable strategy. Thus, they increasingly ask one big and difficult question: What would successful adaptation look like? This project uses a variety of research approaches to create scientifically-grounded, practice-relevant indicators and metrics of success for adaption in the coastal sector. (Snover, Whitely Binder)

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