Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Researchers Forecasting Future Climate Impacts on Salmon

Researchers led by Nate Mantua from the UW Climate Impacts Group (coincidentally also a long time member and former science director with the Wild Steelhead Coalition), are using computer models to forecast changes in summer stream temperatures over the next century. Their findings paint a troubling picture for salmon in Washington State where in many watersheds peak summer stream temperatures are expected to rise significantly, stressing both rearing juveniles and migrating adults. In the Columbia system the predictions are particularly dire. Already plauged by dangerously high temperatures during summer, model predictions for the basin indicate that by the end of the century, most if not all of the mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers will reach lethal temperatures during mid-summer. Salmon and steelhead are remarkably adaptable and resilient animals, however they can only be pushed so far.

Predictions like these are nothing new and highlights the urgency of removing the four Lower Snake River Dams which currently delay the migration of fish through the system and create several hundred miles of warm, slack water in areas which experience some of the hottest summer time temperatures in the region. Among the many benefits, dam removal would help maintain cooler, more salmon friendly water temperatures during mid-summer and would allow populations of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake to recover significantly before the major impacts of climate change begin to unfold in the latter half of the 21st century.

More information in NOAA's climate watch magazine.

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