Return to National Climate Assessment (NCA) Teaching Resources Home

NCA Education Resources for the Northwest Region

"Changes in the timing of streamflow reduce water supplies for competing demands. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-off." National Climate Assessment, 2014

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

Disclaimer:
The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the team themselves and not necessarily Climate.gov, NOAA, or USGCRP.

Contributors:
Scott Carley, College of Exploration
Frank Niepold, NOAA Climate Program Office

Through its Our Changing Climate section and Climate Science Supplement sections, the NCA contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science. This content will support the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into science education.  The NGSS also asks educators to raise the teaching of engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. In the Adaptation and Infrastructure sections of the NCA, educators can find information on climate-related problems and solutions, including those that draw on engineering design. The Decision Support section provides information on how decision makers across the country are using climate information to prepare for the impacts of climate change that affect where they work and live.

This webpage features key figures, related resources, and lesson plans, videos and visualizations reviewed by CLEAN for all the NCA key messages for the region.  The page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications of climate variability and climate change for Northwest region.

NCA Northwest Region Report and Highlights

Report

Highlights

Región Noroeste (Spanish translation)

NCA Key Message 1: Water-related Challenges

visit the full Water-related Challenges page

Changes in the timing of streamflow related to changing snowmelt have been observed and will continue, reducing the supply of water for many competing demands and causing far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are the principal water uses in the region? How will these uses be affected by changes in water quantities and the timing of spring snow melts?
  • How do agricultural and recreational users, private utilities, public agencies, etc. collectively managing these competing uses (e.g., through drought and water management plans)? What pressures will climate change place on these delicate tradeoffs?
  • How are and will the needs of fish and wildlife be accommodated in these drought and water management plans?

2. Key Figures

Observed Shifts in Streamflow Timing
Reduced June flows in many Northwest snow-fed rivers is a signature of warming in basins that have a significant snowmelt contribution. The fraction of annual flow occurring in June increased slightly in rain-dominated coastal basins and decreased in mixed rain-snow basins and snowmelt-dominated basins over the period 1948 to 2008. The high flow period is in June for most Northwest river basins; decreases in summer flows can make it more difficult to meet a variety of competing human and natural demands for water. (Figure source: adapted from Fritze, H., I. T. Stewart, and E. J. Pebesma, 2011: Shifts in Western North American snowmelt runoff regimes for the recent warm decades. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 12, 989-1006, doi:10.1175/2011JHM1360.1).

Future Shift in Timing of Stream Flows Reduced Summer Flows
Projected increased winter flows and decreased summer flows in many Northwest rivers will cause widespread impacts. Mixed rain-snow watersheds, such as the Yakima River basin, an important agricultural area in eastern Washington, will see increased winter flows, earlier spring peak flows, and decreased summer flows in a warming climate. Changes in average monthly streamflow by the 2020s, 2040s, and 2080s (as compared to the period 1916 to 2006) indicate that the Yakima River basin could change from a snow-dominant to a rain-dominant basin by the 2080s under the A1B emissions scenario (with eventual reductions from current rising emissions trends). (Figure source: adapted from Elsner, M. M., L. Cuo, N. Voisin, J. S. Deems, A. F. Hamlet, J. A. Vano, K. E. B. Mickelson, S. Y. Lee, and D. P. Lettenmaier, 2010: Implications of 21st century climate change for the hydrology of Washington State. Climatic Change, 102, 225-260, doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9855-0).

(Right) Natural surface water availability during the already dry late summer period is projected to decrease across most of the Northwest. The map shows projected changes in local runoff (shading) and streamflow (colored circles) for the 2040s (compared to the period 1915 to 2006) under the same scenario as the left figure (A1B). (from Hamlet, A. F., M. McGuire Elsner, G. S. Mauger, S. - Y. Lee, I. Tohver, and R. A. Norheim, 2013: An overview of the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios project: Approach, methods, and summary of key results.Atmosphere-Ocean, 51, 392-415, doi:10.1080/07055900.2013.819555. ) Streamflow reductions such as these would stress freshwater fish species (for instance, endangered salmon and bull trout) and necessitate increasing tradeoffs among conflicting uses of summer water. Watersheds with significant groundwater contributions to summer streamflow may be less responsive to climate change than indicated here. (from Tague, C. L., J. S. Choate, and G. Grant, 2013: Parameterizing sub-surface drainage with geology to improve modeling streamflow responses to climate in data limited environments. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 17, 341-354, doi:10.5194/hess-17-341-2013),

3. Other Resources

Estimated State-Level Energy Flows in 2008
Sankey (or Spaghetti) diagrams parse out the energy flow by state, based on 2008 data from the Dept. of Energy. These diagrams can help bring a local perspective to energy consumption. The estimates include rejected or lost energy but don't necessarily include losses at the ultimate user end that are due to lack of insulation. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower, College Upper, Informal

4. Lesson Plans

Glacier (?) National Park
This activity engages learners in examining data pertaining to the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park. After calculating percentage change of the number of glaciers from 1850 (150) to 1968 (50) and 2009 (26), students move on to the main glacier-monitoring content of the module--area vs. time data for the Grinnell Glacier, one of 26 glaciers that remain in the park. Using a second-order polynomial (quadratic function) fitted to the data, they extrapolate to estimate when there will be no Grinnell Glacier remaining (illustrating the relevance of the question mark in the title of the module). Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower, College Upper

5. Videos

Water: A Zero Sum Game
This video takes viewers high into the Rocky Mountain snowpack, where researchers dig snow pits to explore the source of Colorado's water supply. Highlights how important snowpack is to the supply of fresh water available in western and southwestern states. Snowmelt dynamics are discussed, including the impact of a warming climate on these dynamics. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School, College Lower

Students Measure Changes in Ice and Snow
This short video features the Alaska Lake Ice and Snow Observatory Network (ALISON project), a citizen science program in which 4th and 5th graders help scientists study the relationship between climate change and lake ice and snow conditions. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School

Warmer Water Kills Salmon Eggs
In this video segment, adapted from a student video produced at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham Washington, Native American elders discuss the impact of climate change on salmon populations and the importance of restoring balance in the natural world. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School

NCA Key Message 2: Coastal Vulnerabilities

visit the full Coastal Vulnerabilities page

In the coastal zone, the effects of sea level rise, erosion, inundation, threats to infrastructure and habitat, and increasing ocean acidity collectively pose a major threat to the region.

1. Guiding Questions

  • How will rising sea levels impact public and private coastal infrastructure (e.g., beaches, houses and public buildings, roads, water treatment facilties) and regional and local economies? How can coastal communities respond to these issues?
  • Identify the factors that put certain coastal communities more at risk than others as a result of sea level rise.
  • How will non-coastal areas of the region be indirectly affected by sea level rise (e.g., disruption to economic activity)?
  • How is ocean acidification affecting culturally and commercially significant marine species in the Region?

2. Key Figures

Projected Relative Sea Level Rise for the Latitude of Newport, Oregon
Projected relative sea level rise for the latitude of Newport, Oregon (relative to the year 2000) is based on a broader suite of emissions scenarios (ranging from B1 to A1FI) and a more detailed and regionally-focused calculation than those generally used in this assessment (see Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate). The blue area shows the range of relative sea level rise, and the black line shows the projection, which incorporates global and regional effects of warming oceans, melting land ice, and vertical land movements. Given the difficulty of assigning likelihood to any one possible trajectory of sea level rise at this time, a reasonable risk assessment would consider multiple scenarios within the full range of possible outcomes shown, in conjunction with long- and short-term compounding effects, such as El Niño-related variability and storm surge. (Data from NRC, 2012: Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future. National Research Council, Committee on Sea Level Rise in California, Oregon, Washington, Board on Earth Sciences Resources, Ocean Studies Board, Division on Earth Life Studies The National Academies Press, 201 pp.).

Rising Sea Levels and Changing Flood Risks in Seattle
Areas of Seattle projected by Seattle Public Utilities to be below sea level during high tide (Mean Higher High Water) and therefore at risk of flooding or inundation are shaded in blue under three levels of sea level rise (from Mote, P. W., A. Petersen, S. Reeder, H. Shipman, and L. C. Whitley-Binder, 2008: Sea Level Rise in the Coastal Waters of Washington State. Report prepared by the Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans. 11 pp., Center for Science in the Earth System, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington; Lacey, Washington), assuming no adaptation. (High [50 inches] and medium [13 inches] levels are within the range projected for the Northwest by 2100; the highest level [88 inches] includes the compounding effect of storm surge, derived from the highest observed historical tide in Seattle (from Zervas, C. E., 2005: Response of extreme storm tide levels to long-term sea level change. OCEANS, 2005. Proceedings of MTS/IEEE, 3, 2501-2506, doi:10.1109/oceans.2005.1640144)). Unconnected inland areas shown to be below sea level may not be inundated, but could experience problems due to areas of standing water caused by a rise in the water table and drainage pipes backed up with seawater. (Figure source: Seattle Public Utilities, 2010. Sea level rise, Year 2100 (map). Scale not given. City of Seattle, WA).

3. Other Resources

Surging Seas
This interactive map allows the user to explore projected alterations of land surfaces in coastal communities, based on different scenarios of sea level changes over time. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower, College Upper

Climate Wizard
This is an interactive webtool that allows the user to choose a state or country and both assess how climate has changed over time and project what future changes are predicted to occur in a given area. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower, College Upper, Informal

What Is Ocean Acidification?
This static image from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program offers a visually compelling and scientifically sound image of the sea water carbonate chemistry process that leads to ocean acidification and impedes calcification. Direct Link Grade Level: High School, College Lower, College Upper, Informal

4. Lesson Plans

Understanding Ocean Acidification
This series of five activities about ocean acidification incorporates real data from NOAA. The activities are organized as a pathway, with five levels increasing in sophistication, and different data-based inquiry activities. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower

Our Acidifying Ocean
This 3-part interactive and virtual lab activity examines the life cycle of the sea urchin, and how the increasing acidity of the ocean affects their larval development. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School

5. Videos

Salmon Move to Deeper Waters
This video segment features subsistence fishing and harvesting in the Northwest US. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School

Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington
This video features Dr. Gary Griggs, scientist with the National Research Council (NRC) and professor at UCSC, reviewing highlights from the recently released report by the NRC about predictions for sea-level rise on the West Coast states. The video includes effective visualizations and animations of the effects of plate tectonics and sea-level rise on the West Coast. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower

Changing Planet: Ocean Acidification
This video addresses acidification of the ocean and the ecological and economic implications of the resulting pH change on marine life. It includes information about how ocean acidification resulting from increased absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere is affecting ocean species such as sea urchins and oysters. Scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara discuss their experiments with sea creatures in acidic sea water. There is an associated lesson plan and classroom activity that has students test the effects of CO2 on water pH. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School

NCA Key Message 3: Impacts on Forests

visit the full Impacts on Forests page

The combined impacts of increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are already causing widespread tree die-off and are virtually certain to cause additional forest mortality by the 2040s and long-term transformation of forest landscapes. Under higher emissions scenarios, extensive conversion of subalpine forests to other forest types is projected by the 2080s.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What are the current and potential future climate-caused challenges faced by forests in the Northwest?
  • What tree species are especially at risk?
  • What effects on ecosystems have already been observed? What future effects are predicted? How could these habitat changes affect native fish and wildlife species?
  • How could this changes in Northwest forests affect the culture, economy, recreational activities, etc. of the Region?

2. Key Figures

Insects and Fire in Northwest Forests
Insects and fire have cumulatively affected large areas of the Northwest and are projected to be the dominant drivers of forest change in the near future. Map shows areas recently burned (1984 to 2008)1,2 or affected by insects or disease (1997 to 2008).3 (Middle) Map indicates the increases in area burned that would result from the regional temperature and precipitation changes associated with a 2.2°F global warming4 across areas that share broad climatic and vegetation characteristics5. Local impacts will vary greatly within these broad areas with sensitivity of fuels to climate6. (Bottom) Projected changes in the probability of climatic suitability for mountain pine beetles for the period 2001 to 2030 (relative to 1961 to 1990), where brown indicates areas where pine beetles are projected to increase in the future and green indicates areas where pine beetles are expected to decrease in the future. Changes in probability of survival are based on climate-dependent factors important in beetle population success, including cold tolerance7, spring precipitation8, and seasonal heat accumulation9,10. Original references 1-10 included in full caption for Figure 21.7 at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/regions/northwest.)

3. Other Resources

Climate Impacts on Forests (EPA)
Climate influences the structure and function of forest ecosystems and plays an essential role in forest health. A changing climate may worsen many of the threats to forests, such as pest outbreaks, fires, human development, and drought. Climate changes directly and indirectly affect the growth and productivity of forests: directly due to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate and indirectly through complex interactions in forest ecosystems. Climate also affects the frequency and severity of many forest disturbances.

US Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center
The Climate Change Resource Center has been developed as a reference for US Forest Service resource managers and decision makers who need information and tools to address climate change in planning and project implementation on national forests.

4. Lesson Plans

Pine Bark Beetle Outbreaks and Climate
This lesson plan has students working in small groups to research the Mountain Pine Beetle in Colorado and other inter-mountain Western states. Students identify the factors that control pine beetle population and research how warmer winters and decreasing spring snowpack allow the population of pine beetles to expand. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower

Carbon Sequestration in Campus Trees
In this activity, students use a spreadsheet to calculate the net carbon sequestration in a set of trees; they will utilize an allometric approach based upon parameters measured on the individual trees. They determine the species of trees in the set, measure trunk diameter at a particular height, and use the spreadsheet to calculate carbon content of the tree using forestry research data. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower

Mountain Pine Beetles
This lesson plan has students working in small groups to research the Mountain Pine Beetle in Colorado and other inter-mountain Western states. Students identify the factors that control pine beetle population and research how warmer winters and decreasing spring snowpack allow the population of pine beetles to expand. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower

5. Videos

Dr. Susan Prichard and Pine Beetles
In this video, scientist Dr. Susan Prichard discusses the impact of pine bark beetles on western forests, including information on how climate change, specifically rising temperatures, is exacerbating the problem. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower

NCA Key Message 4: Adapting Agriculture

visit the full Adapting Agriculture page

While the agriculture sector’s technical ability to adapt to changing conditions can offset some adverse impacts of a changing climate, there remain critical concerns for agriculture with respect to costs of adaptation, development of more climate resilient technologies and management, and availability and timing of water.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What new methods could be practiced to sustain agriculture in the Northwest?
  • How could climate impacts on agriculture productivity in the Northwest affect the nation’s food supply and the export of agricultural products?
  • What specific impacts on agriculture productivity result from changing temperatures, precipitation patterns and growing seasons?

2. Key Figures

None

3. Other Resources

United States Drought Monitor
This is a real-time map of current drought conditions in the US, which can be zoomed to the state level, with access to many more resources at that level. Some of these include the National Drought Regional Summaries and animations of historical data. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle and High School, College Lower

US Cropland Greenhouse Gas Calculator
This visualization is a website with an interactive calculator that allows for estimation of greenhouse gas production from croplands in the United States. Direct Link

Grade Level: High School, College Lower

The impact of a global temperature rise of 4 degree Celsius
This interactive world map shows the impact of a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius on a variety of factors including agriculture, marine life, fires, weather patterns, and health. Hot Spots can be clicked on to get more specific information about the problems in different regions. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School, College Lower, College Upper

4. Lesson Plans

None at this time. The CLEAN collection building process wil likely be updated in the Fall of 2015 and perhaps resources relating to agriculture adaption will be included in the collection.

5. Videos

Baking the Breadbasket: Persistent Drought in the Heartland
In this video, NOAA's Deke Arndt, Chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at the National Climatic Data Center, recaps the temperature and precipitation data for the continental US in summer 2012. It describes how these conditions have led to drought and reduced crop yields. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School, College Lower

Changing Planet: Withering Crops
This video examines what will happen to crops as Earth's temperature rises and soils dry out because of changing climate. Students learn that a loss of soil moisture causes stress to plants, leading to crop withering. Since humans and animals depend directly or indirectly on plants for food, many societal problems can be expected to arise due to the impact of climate warming on crops and the societies that depend on them. Direct Link

Grade Level: Middle School, High School