Climate Change Impacts on Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife

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Warming of the global climate is unequivocal. Evidence includes increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level. Eleven of the last twelve years (1995 -2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850). The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13 +/- 0.03˚C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years. The total global average temperature increase from 1850 – 1899 to 2001 – 2005 is 0.76 +/- 0.19˚C.

Climate records show that the Pacific Northwest has warmed about 1.0 ˚C since 1900, or about 50% more than the global average warming over the same period. The warming rate for the Pacific Northwest over the next century is projected to be in the range of 0.1-0.6˚ C/decade. Projected precipitation changes for the region are relatively modest and unlikely to be distinguishable from natural variability until late in the 21st century. Most models project long-term increases in winter precipitation and decreases in summer precipitation. The changes in temperature and precipitation will alter the snow pack, stream flow, and water quality in the Columbia Basin:

  • Warmer temperatures will result in more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow
  • Snow pack will diminish, and stream flow timing will be altered
  • Peak river flows will likely increase
  • Water temperatures will continue to rise

These changes will have a variety of impacts on aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the Columbia Basin.

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