The threat posed by climate change is real and the potential impacts if climate prediction models are correct will be acute in Oregon, a team of researchers said in a report to the state's lawmakers...

Video: If climate prediction models are correct, Oregon faces acute impacts from climate change, researchers at Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University say...

The threat posed by climate change is real and the potential impacts if climate prediction models are correct will be acute in Oregon, a team of researchers said in a report to the state's lawmakers.

Those threats include erosion and flooding on the coast, an increase in wildfires in the Cascades and decreased snowpack in eastern Oregon, which could portend warming streams and rivers that could limit the range of fish species like salmon and trout, according to the report released Wednesday.

Those impacts could be particularly hard hitting for Native American tribes and the state's economy, according to the 106-page document, published by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University.

Despite ongoing doubts from some, including President Donald Trump, on humans' role in climate change, the authors of the report did not mince words in placing blame.

"Burning fossil fuels to run our factories, heat our homes, and drive our cars produces heat-trapping gases that unequivocally warm the planet," the report stated. "Effects of warming are evident on physical, biological, and human and managed systems across the globe, and here in Oregon."

The authors wrote that residents of the Beaver State don't have to wait to see the impact of a warming climate because there is "strengthening evidence that Oregon is already experiencing the effects of climate change."

Exhibit A, according to the report was the record low snowpack the Cascades saw in 2015, which was so diminutive not for lack of precipitation, but because of warm temperatures that turned snow to rain at high elevations and melted reserves quickly.

Oregon's snowpack acts like a frozen reservoir, gradually releasing water during the dry summer months when it's needed most for agriculture, fisheries, recreation and hydroelectric power generation.

The lack of snow in 2015 led to widespread declarations of drought and an outbreak of summer wildfires across the Pacific Northwest, the authors wrote.


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If greenhouse gas emissions aren't curbed, the report said, average temperatures in Oregon are expected to rise by 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and 5 to 11 degrees by 2080. If emissions level off by mid-century the warming will be less drastic, but would still be in the range of 2 to 7 degrees on average.

"Extreme heat and precipitation events are expected to become more frequent" in that scenario, according to the report.

The effects of climate change will be felt in the forests as well. If temperatures warm as they are predicted to, coniferous forests will shift to mixed forests west of the Cascades and subalpine forests will likely shrink. A warmer climate will also expand populations of pests and disease, which have already taken hold in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

All of this will add up to an increase in wildfires, the report said, which are already burning larger and faster due to human-caused climate change.


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On the coast, Newport is expected to see sea level rise of somewhere between 12 and 47 inches, the report says, which could put thousands of residents and more than 100 miles of coastal roadway at risk for yearly flooding up to 4 feet above the high tide mark.

The changes won't just be felt on land, either.

"Greater ocean acidity, less dissolved oxygen, and warmer water temperatures are expected in Oregon's coastal waters," the report says. Some shellfish have already been observed suffering from "shell dissolution" due to an increase in ocean acidity.


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In the short term, some climate changes could lead to an increase in crop yield, according to the report, as warmer winters, an environment rich in carbon dioxide and expanded growing seasons create opportunities to grow new varieties of crops.

That potential benefit will be tempered by other factors, however, which may impact farmers'  ability to capitalize on any expanded opportunities.

"Such benefits hinge on having adequate water supply, which is projected to dwindle, especially in areas that rely on snowpack," the report says.

What all this adds up to is a threat to the health of Oregonians. Hotter temperatures will mean an increase in heat-related illness. More wildfires will impact air quality and those who suffer from respiratory illness and an increase in extreme weather events can harm mental health, the report said.

The first to feel these effects, however, will be members of Native American tribes.

"Tribes that depend upon these ecosystems, both on and off reservation, are among the first to experience the impacts of climate change," the report said. "Of particular concern are changes in the availability and timing of traditional foods such as salmon, shellfish, and berries, and other plant and animal species important to tribes' traditional way of life."

By Kale Williams 

The Oregonian/OregonLive
| Follow on Twitter
on January 25, 2017

[email protected]



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