Climate Change Effects on Marine And Coastal Habitats in Washington State
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Climate Change Effects on Marine And Coastal Habitats in Washington State

Category: Climate Change Science

Date Published: July 2011

Number of Pages: 35


This paper is intended as a reference document—a “science summary”— for the Ecosystems, Species, and Habitats Topic Advisory Group (TAG), which is one of four topic groups working with state agencies to prepare a statewide Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy. The climate change response strategy was initiated by the state legislature (SB 5560) to help the state adapt to climate change.

The purpose of this paper is to provide TAG members with information on climate change effects on fish, wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems in marine environments so as to inform the assessment of priorities and the development of recommendations about adaptation responses. The paper is intended to summarize relevant literature regarding historical baselines, observed trends, future projections, knowledge gaps, and implications for biological communities. The paper focuses primarily at the ecosystem level due to limited availability of studies regarding climate change effects on habitats and species.

This document draws from synthesis reports, government publications, non-profit publications, and peer-reviewed studies. These include the two primary reference documents for the Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy, which are the Climate Impacts Group’s The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment: Evaluating Washington’s Future in a Changing Climate (WACCIA) (CIG, 2009); and Leading the Way: Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change in Washington. Recommendations of the Preparation and Adaptation Working Groups (Preparation and Adaptation Working Groups (PAWG), 2008).

This document attempts to summarize and organize relevant scientific findings to provide TAG members with a starting point as they prioritize climate impacts and recommend response strategies. In many cases, this document uses language taken directly from the cited sources. This document is for discussion purposes only and is not intended to be published or cited. Readers should cite the primary sources of information.

Please note that we accepted information as it was presented in synthesis reports. Readers may wish to return to the primary sources utilized in those synthesis reports for more information. In cases where we accepted the interpretation of primary information as it was stated in a secondary source, we have provided the following note in the footnote: “Information as cited in [secondary source].”

As with most summary or synthesis efforts, this document reports the central findings from published literature and typically does not address the inherent complexity and uncertainty that may be present. This is especially true of future projections, which are often based on multi-model ensembles that do not perfectly capture the complexity of Washington’s unique climate systems and geographic variability. These projections are valuable primarily to identify a directional trend and a sense of magnitude. As an example of the inherent uncertainty of future projections, the WACCIA notes that multi-model ensembles of global climate projections may under-represent the local severity of climate change.1 For more information on climate models used in the WACCIA, see Appendix 1. 

This document discusses climate change effects on marine systems, but does not specifically address climate change effects on salmon. As anadromous species, salmon are affected by climate impacts to both marine and freshwater ecosystems. A starting point for information on climate impacts to salmon can be found in chapter 6 of the Climate Impact Group’s Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment (WACCIA):

Mantua, N.J., I. Tohver, and A.F. Hamlet. 2009. Impacts of climate change on key aspects of freshwater salmon habitat in Washington State. Chapter 6 in The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment: Evaluating Washington's Future in a Changing Climate, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

This document was produced by National Wildlife Federation and reviewed by WDFW staff (led by Ken Warheit, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Fish Program) and Scott Redman from Puget Sound Partnership and Nate Mantua from University of Washington Climate Impacts Group (CIG). Significant efforts have been made to accurately characterize the information presented. However, we must emphasize that this document is neither comprehensive nor complete. In this complex and rapidly evolving field, we do not expect that we have identified all of the most up-to-date data or presented the complexity of climate projections. In addition, there are many gaps in knowledge, especially regarding climate change effects on specific habitats or locations. Still, we hope that this provides a starting point for discussion, and that readers will augment this with additional data to advance our understanding of climate impacts and responses.

1 Salathé, et al. (2009) Regional climate model projections for the State of Washington. In: WACCIA