Category Archives: Climate change

Northwest stayed warm in May; new graphics show long-term trends

After warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the past year, May suddenly turned cooler across the nation — except for the Northwest, which remained warmer than normal.

Temp anomaly

Although it seemed cool recently, at least compared to April, Western Washington had the greatest deviation with temperatures between 3 and 5 degrees higher than the 30-year average. See first map.

It seems ironic to write about cooler temperatures after last month’s teaser headline at the top of the Kitsap Sun’s front page: “Earth getting HOT, HOT, HOTTER!”

The big story earlier this month was that worldwide temperatures had broken all-time heat records for 12 months in a row, and April’s record-high temperature was a full half-degree higher than the previous record.

The average temperature hasn’t been below the 20th century average since December 1984, and the last time the Earth broke a monthly cold record was nearly a century ago, in December 1916, according to NOAA records.

“These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email to Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press.

Temp outlook

El Niño, which is now fading, was blamed in part for the unprecedented heat worldwide. But climatologists say the onward march of global warming lies in the background. Last year turned out to be the hottest year on record, easily beating 2014, which was also a record year.

The first four months of this year were so much hotter than 2015 that 2016 is still likely to set another record. NOOA’s Climate Prediction Center says La Niña conditions are on the way, with a 50 percent chance of La Niña by summer and a 75 percent chance by fall.

Summer temperatures are expected to be above average except in the Central U.S., while both coasts are expected to be the most likely to exceed normal temperatures. Check out the second map on this page.

Speaking of the onward march of climate change, computer graphics developers keep coming up with new ways to show how global temperatures are increasing in concert with rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

New normal

Climate Central has combined data sets from NOAA to produce the orange graph,which shows the advance of a trailing 30-year temperature average from 1980 through 2015. To put it simply, we continue to adjust to a new normal.

Others have used animation to depict temperature change. One graphic (below) received a lot of attention this month. Temperature change is represented as the distance from a “zero” circle starting in 1850. Each month, a line moves one-twelfth of the way around the circle, completing 360 degrees each year. The line gets farther and farther from the center and really jumps outward in 2015.

Ed Hawkins, professor of meteorology at the University of Reading near London, created the animation. He credited an associate, Jan Fuglestvedt, with the idea of a spiral.

Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, called it “the most compelling global warming visualization ever made.” His blog post also includes some other visual depictions of climate change.

Another animated graph, by Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, show similar data depicted as a moving line graph.

NOAA Visualizations plotted temperature differences at various locations on a world map. Over time, it is easy to see how the Earth has gotten generally warmer, accelerating in recent years.

One of the most intriguing graphics, in my opinion, is one that purports to show the various factors that affect global temperature — from volcanic activity to man-made aerosols to greenhouse gases. The designers, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, ask viewers to judge which factor they believe leads to global warming.

Since this is a blog about water issues, I would probably be remiss if I didn’t point out that the consequences of rising greenhouse gases is not just an increase in the Earth’s temperature. We can’t forget that a major portion of the carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, causing effects on marine life that are far from fully understood.

Big sea stars, but no babies, observed
in Lofall this week

“Still no babies,” commented Peg Tillery, as we arrived at the Lofall dock in North Kitsap in search of sea stars clinging to pilings under the dock.

Barb Erickson examines sea stars at the base of a pier in Lofall. Photo: Christopher Dunagan
Barb Erickson examines sea stars at the base of a pier in Lofall on Hood Canal.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

“They say there’s a comeback of the little ones,” noted Barb Erickson, “but I’m not seeing any of them.”

Peg and Barb are two of three retired volunteers who first brought me to this site two years ago to explain their ongoing investigation into the mysterious “sea star wasting disease.” Since our first trip, researchers have identified the virus that attacks sea stars, causes their arms to fall off and turns their bodies to a gooey mush.

I first witnessed the devastation in June of 2014, when starfish were dying by the millions up and down the West Coast (Water Ways, June 17, 2014). Lofall, a community on Hood Canal, was just one location where the stars seemed to be barely clinging to life. Now, just a fraction of the population still survives in many locations.

Bruce Menge of Oregon State University recently reported an upsurge in the number of baby starfish on the Oregon Coast, something not seen since the beginning of the epidemic.

“When we looked at the settlement of the larval sea stars on rocks in 2014 during the epidemic, it was the same or maybe even a bit lower than previous years,” said Menge in a news release from OSU. “But a few months later, the number of juveniles was off the charts — higher than we’d ever seen — as much as 300 times normal.”

As Peg and Barb pointed out, the recovery at Lofall has been hit or miss during more than two years of monitoring the site. I became hopeful on my return trip to the dock in January of 2015, when I noticed a mix of healthy adult and juvenile sea stars (Water Ways, Jan. 20,2015).

This week, the young ones were nowhere in sight. Clusters of healthy adult ochre stars were piled on top of each other at the bottom of the piers, waiting for the tide to come back in. I was not sure what to make of it.

Sea stars clusters on two adjacent piers at Lofall dock. Photo: Christopher Dunagan
Sea stars clusters on two adjacent piers at Lofall dock.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

“it could be worse,” Barb said. “I think it is neutral news.” Peg agreed, saying, “It could be totally worse.”

Summer has been the period of reckoning in past years, and we should soon know if we are in for another round of disease, which could kill off more of the surviving sea stars, or if the disease is finally on the wane.

Linda Martin, who normally compiles the data, was not along on this week’s trip to Lofall, but other volunteers filled in for her.

“It is an interesting ride,” Barb told me, referring to her experience as a so-called citizen scientist. “It connects you to the larger picture, and you realize that everything is connected.”

It is nice for people in the community to know that this volunteer work is taking place, Barb said, and that someone is watching for changes in the environment.

“People will come up and ask me if there is anything new, people who couldn’t have cared less before,” she said.

For those interested in this kind of volunteer work, a good place to start is Kitsap Beach Naturalists. One can contact Renee Johnson, program coordinator, at rkjohnson@co.kitsap.wa.us.

Meanwhile, the cause of sea star wasting disease remains somewhat of a mystery even after its connection to the densovirus, which is associated with dead sea stars but also has been found in some that are free of disease.

A laboratory study led by Morgan Eisenlord of Cornell University found that the disease progressed faster when adult sea stars were exposed to higher temperatures and that adult mortality was 18 percent higher when water temperatures reached 66 degrees F. Temperature was documented as a likely factor in the spread of disease through the San Juan Islands.

But temperatures are not the sole controlling factor, because the spread of the disease has been out of sync with temperature change in numerous locations.

“The sea temperatures were warmer when the outbreak first began,” Menge said, “but Oregon wasn’t affected as early as other parts of the West Coast, and the outbreak reached its peak here when the sea temperature plummeted and was actually cooler than normal.”

Could there be another trigger that increases the virulence of the densovirus?

“Ocean acidification is one possibility, and we’re looking at that now,” Menge said. “Ultimately, the cause seems likely to be multi-faceted.”

Automated monitor provides early warning of harmful algae blooms

Automated equipment installed Monday off the Washington Coast will track concentrations of six species of plankton that could become harmful to humans and marine species.

The Environmental Sample Processor, or ESP, collects discrete samples of water and processes them for analysis. Imbedded modules can test for DNA and antibodies to identify the organisms picked up in the seawater. Concentrations of the plankton and their toxins are sent to shore-based researchers via satellite.

The equipment was installed by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington. The device was developed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Stephanie Moore of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center explains the benefits of the device in the first video on this page. The second video provides a few more technical details with graphic depictions of the device.

The ESP was deployed in the Juan de Fuca eddy, a known pathway for toxic algae 13 miles off the Washington Coast near LaPush. The remote, self-operating laboratory will operate about 50 feet underwater.

One of the primary targets of the monitoring is Pseudo-nitzschia, a harmful algae capable of producing domoic acid. This toxin can accumulate in shellfish and can cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, which can progress to severe illness. Last year, a massive bloom of this toxic algae canceled scheduled razor clam seasons on Washington beaches with untold economic consequences.

The harmful algal bloom (HAB) affected the entire West Coast, from California to Alaska. It was the largest and longest-lasting bloom in at least 15 years, according to NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

“Concentrations of domoic acid in seawater, some forage fish and crab samples were among the highest ever reported in this region,” says a factsheet from the service. “By mid-May, domoic acid concentrations in Monterey Bay, California, were 10 to 30 times the level that would be considered high for a normal Pseudo-nitzschia bloom.”

“Other HAB toxins were also detected on the West Coast. Shellfish closures in Puget Sound protected consumers from paralytic shellfish poisoning and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning.”

Paralytic shellfish poisoning is associated with a group of plankton called Alexandrium, typically Alexandrium catenella in the Puget Sound region.

In addition to sampling for Alexandrium and four species of Pseudo-nitzchia, the ESP is monitoring for Heterosigma akashiwo, which is associated with massive fish kills, including farmed salmon.

Anyone can track some of the data generated by the equipment by visiting NANOOS — the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems.

Early warning of toxic algal blooms can assist state and local health officials in their surveillance of toxic shellfish.

“Anyone can access the data in near-real-time,” UW oceanographer and NANOOS Director Jan Newton told Hannah Hickey of UW News and Information. “It’s an early warning sentry.”

Research cruise studies ocean acidification
along West Coast

A major study of ocean acidification along the West Coast is underway with the involvement of 17 institutions, including 36 scientists from five countries.

NOAA's Research Vessel Ronald H. Brown NOAA photo
NOAA’s Research Vessel Ronald H. Brown
NOAA photo

Based aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Ronald H. Brown, the researchers are taking physical, chemical and biological measurements as they consider a variety of ecological pressures on marine species. They will take note of changes since the last cruise in 2013. To obtain samples from shallow waters, the researchers will get help along the way from scientists going out in small vessels launched from land. Staff from Olympic National Park, Channel Islands National Park and Cabrillo National Monument will assist.

The cruise started out last Thursday from San Diego Naval Base. Researchers have been posting information about the trip and their work on a blog called “West Coast Ocean Acidification.”

The month-long working adventure is the fifth of its kind in areas along the West Coast, but this is the first time since 2007 that the cruise will cover the entire area affected by the California Current — from Baja California to British Columbia. The video shows Pacific white-sided dolphins as seen from the deck of the Ron Brown on Monday just west of Baja California.

As on cruises in 2011–2013, these efforts will include studies of algae that cause harmful blooms, as well as analyses of pteropod abundance, diversity, physiology, and calcification, said Simone Alin, chief scientist for the first leg of the cruise.

“We are pleased to welcome new partners and highlight new analyses on this cruise as well,” she continued in her blog post. “For example, some of our partners will be employing molecular methods (proteomics, genomics, transcriptomics) to study the response of marine organisms to their environments.

“We also have scientists studying bacterial diversity and metabolic activity in coastal waters participating for the first time. New assays of stress in krill and other zooplankton — important fish food sources — will also be done on this cruise. Last but not least, other new collaborators will be validating measurements of ocean surface conditions done by satellites from space.”

To learn how satellites gather information about the California Current, check out Earth Observatory.

The research crew takes water samples using the CTD rosette off the coast of Baja California. Photo: Melissa Ward
The research crew takes water samples using the CTD rosette off the coast of Baja California.
Photo: Melissa Ward

With rising levels of carbon dioxide bringing changes to waters along the West Coast, researchers are gathering information that could help predict changes in the future. Unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean the past two years (nicknamed “the blob”) may have compounded the effects of ocean acidification, according to Alin.

Reading the cruise blog, I enjoyed a piece by Melissa Ward, a doctoral candidate in the Joint Program in Ecology from UC Davis and San Diego State University. Her story begins:

“As I prepared to leave for the West Coast OA research cruise, many family and friends skipped right over the ‘research’ part, and jumped straight to ‘cruise’. But to their disappointment, the photos of me sitting by the pool drinking my margarita will never materialize.

“The Ron Brown, our research vessel, does have two lounge chairs on the main deck, but they are strapped down to keep them from flying off as we go tipping back and forth with the ocean swells. Immediately after boarding the ship for departure from San Diego to Mexico, you have to start adjusting to this never-ending sway. After some stumbles and falls (which I’m certain the crew found entertaining), you get used to the motion, and can at least minimize public clumsiness.”

Brandon Carter, mission scientist on the cruise, provides a delightful primer on the pros and cons of carbon dioxide in a blog entry posted Tuesday, and Katie Douglas , a doctoral student at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science posted a blog entry yesterday in which she discusses the CTD rosette, a basic piece of oceanographic equipment used to continuously record conductivity (salinity), temperature and depth as it is lowered down into the ocean. The remote-controlled device can take water samples at any level.

Children join forces to demand action
on climate change

I find it fascinating that children are making a strong legal argument that governments must take swift action to reduce climate change.

A series of lawsuits across the country are founded on the idea that many adults will be gone in 40 or 50 years when climate extremes become the new norm. It is the young people of today who will suffer the consequences of ongoing government inaction.

In a case filed by a group of children in King County Superior Court, Judge Hollis Hill took the Washington Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee to task for delaying action on new clean air regulations to help curb greenhouse gas emissions:

“Petitioners assert, the department does not dispute, and this court finds that current scientific evidence establishes that rapidly increasing global warming causes an unprecedented risk to the Earth, including land, sea, the atmosphere and all living plants and animals…

“In fact, as petitioners assert and this court finds, their very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHGs (greenhouse gases) before doing so becomes too costly and then too late.

“The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”

One can download Hill’s full opinion (PDF 2.6 mb) from Our Children’s Trust website. Also, reporter Jeannie Yandel of radio station KUOW interviewed the attorney and some of the children involved in the case.

Attorney Andrea Rogers (far right) poses with young plaintiffs outside a King County courtroom. Their legal victory requires state government to address climate change by the end of 2016. Photo: Our Children’s Trust
Attorney Andrea Rogers (far right) poses with young plaintiffs outside a King County courtroom. Their legal victory requires state government to address climate change by the end of 2016. // Photo: Our Children’s Trust

It is ironic that Gov. Inslee finds himself under attack for failure to act against greenhouse gas emissions, given that he is one of the nation’s leading advocates for action on climate change. Inslee literally wrote the book on this issue while serving in Congress: “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.”

Unable to get the Legislature to act on his specific program, the governor is now on a course to impose new regulations to force a reduction in greenhouse gases. Initially, the new standards would apply to large industrial sources. The governor says his authority stems from a 2008 law passed by the Legislature requiring a reduction to 1990 emission levels by 2020. We can expect the rule to be challenged by business interests.

Originally, the rule was to be completed this summer, but the proposal was withdrawn in February in light of an overwhelming number of comments and new ideas that needed to be addressed. The rule is scheduled to be re-released later this month and adopted by the end of the year.

Judge Hill’s latest ruling from the bench on April 29 requires Ecology to adopt the rule by the end of the year. That fits within Ecology’s current schedule, said Camille St. Onge, spokeswoman for Ecology. Whether the agency might appeal the ruling to preserve its options won’t be decided until after the judge’s written findings are issued, she said.

“We agree with Judge Hill,” St. Onge told me in an email. “Climate change is a global issue, and science is telling us that what was projected years ago is happening today, and we need to act now to protect our environment and economy for future generations. We’re working vigorously on Washington’s first-ever rule to cap and reduce carbon pollution and help slow climate change.”

Gov. Inslee said in a news release that he has no dispute with Judge Hill’s findings, which actually support his approach to combatting climate change:

“This case is a call to act on climate, and that call is one that has been a priority for me since taking office. Our state is helping lead the way on climate action in our country…

“In a way it is gratifying that the court has also affirmed our authority to act, contrary to the assertion of those who continue to reject action on climate change and ocean acidification. Hundreds of people have participated in the creation of our state's Clean Air Rule and the draft will be out in just a few weeks.”

For details about the proposed Clean Air Rule, visit Ecology’s website.

Meanwhile, Washington state is not the only state where youth have filed lawsuits to assert their rights to a healthy future. Cases also are pending in Oregon, Massachusetts, Colorado and North Carolina, according to Our Children’s Trust, which provides details about the state lawsuits on its website.

At the same time, another case is underway in U.S. District Court in Oregon, where Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled that the young plaintiffs have standing and legitimate claims to be adjudicated. He allowed the case to move forward with additional evidence to be submitted. Read his April 8 ruling (PDF 3.2 mb) on the website of Our Children’s Trust.

The video below features reporter Bill Moyers discussing the legal issues in these cases, which include claims related to the Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient principle that asserts the public’s right to use and enjoy certain natural resources that cannot be ceded to private property owners.

Earth Day: a time to consider diverse accomplishments

On this Earth Day, I would like to share some “environmental victories” at the national level, take note of advancements in environmental education at the state and local levels, recognize a global climate accomplishment at the international level and celebrate the birthday of John Muir, a giant in the conservation movement.

Environmental victories

Sometimes, amid the environmental battles of today, it is good to step back and look at the changes that our country has gone through since the first Earth Day in 1970. Brian Clark Howard does just that for National Geographic by calling out 46 milestones in environmental history.

The events he describes include various environmental laws, starting off with the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970; international agreements, such at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1975; corporate responsibility, such as McDonald’s move to biodegradable packaging; community outrage, such as in Love Canal; and books and movies, including Al Gore’s call to climate action in “An Inconvenient Truth.”

This is not a comprehensive history of the environmental movement, but it is a strong reminder about how advancements come about in the efforts to improve our environment.

Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-grade students in the photo taken in April 2010. Kitsap Sun file photo by Larry Steagall
Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-graders in this photo taken in April 2010. // Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Environmental education

Six years ago on Earth Day, I wrote a story titled The Evolution of Environmental Education (Kitsap Sun, April 17, 2010) about how environmental education became ingrained in learning through the primary grades — in contrast to the very limited discussions outside of college up until the 1980s.

In 1990, the Legislature mandated that environmental education be part of public instruction at all grade levels, then in 2009 new statewide standards brought a focus to not only ecology but also social and economic systems.

My story describes the struggle to integrate these additional studies into overall classroom learning, rather than teaching separate units on each topic. That effort at integration has continued, as teachers work together to share information about what works in the classroom. See Education for Environment and Sustainability at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Climate change agreement

More than 150 world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York City today to sign an agreement designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. This is the formal signing of an accord reached in Paris by more than 170 countries four months ago.

“Today is a day to mark and celebrate the hard work done by so many to win the battle in securing the Paris agreement,” Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning, as quoted in a Newsweek article. “Knowing what we know, this is also a day to recommit ourselves to actually win this war… Nature is changing at an increasingly rapid pace due to our own choices.”

Hannah Hickey of University of Washington News and Information rounded up comments from UW experts on the topic. Some were hopeful that the international pact will mean substantial reductions in greenhouse gases before ever more drastic climate change comes about. Others seemed to be saying that the agreement is too little too late.

John Muir

John Muir, whose name is synonymous with the conservation movement in the U.S., had much to say about the need to protect special places. Muir’s birthday was yesterday, and I appreciated the 10 inspirational quotes about the outdoors that was pulled together by the Department of Interior.

One of my favorites: “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

John Muir has been called “the father of the national parks,” and I think it is fitting that we take time to recognize his contributions this year, on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I’ve posted the first of two videos produced for the park service. Both can be found on YouTube:

Puget Sound restoration depends on shorelines

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has published the final two parts of a seven-part series on shorelines, bulkheads and nearshore ecosystems.

As we researched the series, I was able to interact with a lot of interesting people — from coastal geologists to property owners. Today’s experts in shoreline ecology credit the late Wolf Bauer with many of the ideas that have become commonplace in shoreline restoration. I was pleased when Washington Sea Grant produced a video tribute to Wolf, who died in January at 103 years old.

One story I wrote, which was published today, involved a boat ride along the eastern shoreline of North Kitsap, which was the perfect setting for describing the geology and natural forces that shape the shoreline. I must thank Hugh Shipman of the Washington Department of Ecology and Paul Dorn of the Suquamish Tribe for their expertise. Check out “Sources of Sand.”

On an earlier boat ride, I joined up with a group of shoreline property owners who were learning about nearshore ecology and the benefits of bulkhead removal. The boat trip, sponsored by the Shore Friendly Kitsap program, is part of a pilot project to introduce the idea of removing bulkheads.

The tour departed from Brownsville and went up through Liberty Bay near Poulsbo, where we observed a mixed assortment of houses and associated shoreline structures. Some of these waterfront homes were protected with massive rock bulkheads; some featured stubby wooden walls; and some were surrounded by vegetation with no bulkhead at all.

“Taking this boat ride lets you see what the natural shoreline should look like,” said Lee Derror, a Tracyton resident who has been contemplating whether to remove her bulkhead, built of creosote timbers.

Cost of removal is a major obstacle for many property owners — unless their bulkhead is already failing. The other major concern is whether alternative “soft shore” protection will be enough to protect their shoreline from excessive erosion.

Leaving Liberty Bay, the boat headed to Port Madison on Bainbridge Island to examine the Powel family property, where a bulkhead was removed in 2013. The 1,500-foot bulkhead removal is believed to be the largest private removal so far in Puget Sound. (See Kitsap Sun, Aug. 29, 2013, or the Shore Friendly webpage.)

Jim Brennan, a consulting marine biologist, told the passengers that accommodations were made to protect a historic boathouse on the Powel property by placing large rocks around the foundation. Also, the beach was sloped back to absorb incoming waves. Other than that, the shoreline is expected to eventually look much the way it did in the 1800s, with a reconnected salt marsh providing food and protection for migrating salmon.

Lee Derror told me that property owners should take a look at their shoreline from the water side, especially if they plan to remove their bulkhead. The Kitsap tour was especially helpful, she said, “because you get to rub elbows with the experts.”

Kitsap’s Shore Friendly pilot project — one of five projects in the Puget Sound region — will help property owners determine if bulkhead removal is right for them. It includes with a visit from a volunteer, followed up by an assessment from an independent geotechnical engineer. The last time I checked, county officials were hoping to offer additional boat rides in the future.

Pilot projects operating in other counties have taken somewhat different approaches, as I described last week in the story “Shoreline Restoration Turns to Private Property Owners.” The second video is from efforts on San Juan Island.

The state’s Shore Friendly website includes web links for people to connect with outreach efforts in their own counties. Go to “Resources in Your Area.”

Below are the seven shoreline stories written by science writer Eric Scigliano and myself for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the online magazine “Salish Sea Currents.” These are published by the Puget Sound Institute, which is associated with the University of Washington. Funding came from the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s been a wet ride through the first half of the 2016 ‘water year’

With half of our “water year” in the record books, 2016 is already being marked down as one of the wettest years in recent history.

Hansvillej

The water year, as measured by hydrologists, runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year, so we will be in WY 2016 for nearly six more months. If things keep going as they are, we will see some new lines plotted on the rainfall charts.

Joel LeCuyer, who keeps track of water data for the Kitsap Public Utility District, points out that the district’s two longest-running weather stations are on their way to record-high totals:

  • Bremerton National Airport, with records going back to 1983, accumulated 66.7 inches of rain at the midway point, compared to an average of 56 inches for the full year.
  • Hansville, with records going back to 1982, has accumulated 36.6 inches, compared to a yearly average of 32 inches.

Looking at the charts, you’ll see that both the airport and Hansville stations are slightly ahead of their maximum water year. It will be interesting to watch this chart as we get closer to June, when rainfall traditionally falls off dramatically. Whatever happens over the next two months will likely foretell whether annual precipitation records will be broken.

Airportj

To access the charts, go to the KPUD website. Under the tab “Water” click “Water Resources Data.” At the bottom of the map, click on the tiny bubble “Rain gauges.” The red ones track precipitation almost in real time.

Looking back, some rather dramatic downpours are already written into the record books this year. For example, when considering the top 10 rainfalls in a 24-hour period, nearly every station has at least one rain event from WY 2016 among the top 10.

At Holly, four of the top 10 rain events recorded over the past 25 years occurred during the past six months. That’s interesting, since Holly is one place where the total accumulation of rainfall is still falling short of the record. Holly has already surpassed the average annual rainfall of nearly 70 inches, according to the chart, but it is unlikely to reach the nearly 130 inches of rainfall recorded in 1999.

Hollyj

Above average precipitation was seen across Western Washington for the first half of the water year, according to the National Weather Service. The range was from 26 percent above average in the Olympic Mountains to 40 percent above average in the Puget Sound lowlands. Snowpack in the Olympic and Cascade mountains is about 10 percent above average.

Ted Buehner of the National Weather Service in Seattle reports that the current warm El Niño is expected to weaken through the spring. And there is a 50 percent chance that La Niña will return next winter. That would typically bring cooler and wetter weather, but rains over the coming winter will have a long way to go to match what we’ve seen during this water year.

As for what we might expect from now through the end of summer, the latest forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says temperatures are likely to be warmer than average in the Northwest with slightly higher than even odds that the summer will be drier than average.

For details on a national scale, check out “ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions” (PDF 3.5 mb).

Shoreline bulkheads impose changes on
the natural ecosystem

It goes without saying that wood, rock or concrete bulkheads built along the shoreline are not natural. They certainly don’t look like any structure formed by nature. And when the water is pushing up against them, waves bounce around and splash back instead of rolling up on shore.

Bulkhead

I have never had any trouble understanding some of the problems caused by bulkheads. I imagine little juvenile salmon swimming along the shoreline, working their way toward the ocean. In shallow water, these little fish can stay away from the bigger fish that want to eat them. But bulkheads create a stretch of deeper water, where predatory fish can swim in close and devour the little ones.

I’ve been told that bulkheads cause other problems as well, such as blocking shoreline erosion. But isn’t that what they are designed to do? What’s the problem? As I’ve learned — especially over the past few months — natural erosion provides the sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches. Natural beaches also collect driftwood, which provides additional habitat for a variety of creatures.

As many readers know, I now work half-time for the Puget Sound Institute, a University of Washington affiliate that publishes the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. We’ve been working on a series of articles about bulkheads — formally known as shoreline armoring — and I’m more convinced than ever that bulkheads really do cause problems.

Surf smelt Photo: Wikimedia commons
Surf smelt // Photo: Wikimedia commons

The first story in the series, released this week, describes the effects of bulkheads on spawning habitat for surf smelt and sand lance, two kinds of small fish that are an important food source for salmon, birds and marine mammals. Check out my story, “Spawning habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides.”

As sea levels continue to rise, the high-tide and low-tide lines move to higher elevations on the beach — until the high-tide line reaches the bulkhead. For many bulkheads, the high-tide line is already there. At that point, the rising sea level continues to push the low-tide line to higher and higher elevations, reducing the spawning habitat for fish that lay their eggs in the intertidal area.

This shrinking habitat is known as “coastal squeeze” or “beach squeeze.” Recent studies suggest that where bulkheads are located, Puget Sound could lose 80 percent of this spawning habitat by the turn of the century, based on average predictions of sea-level rise.

On beaches without bulkheads, the high-tide line would move steadily inland, helping to maintain the critical habitat for forage fish, according to Timothy Quinn, chief scientist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Everywhere in Puget Sound, there will be beach squeeze when you don’t allow things to equilibrate on the land side,” he told me. “What used to be exposed beach (during the tidal cycle) will no longer be exposed.”

It turns out that many bulkheads constructed through the years were never needed to prevent erosion, because they were built to protect homes in areas where erosion is minimal. Future stories in our series will cover this issue, including the prospect of removing existing bulkheads to improve shoreline habitats. Unfortunately, sea level rise adds a new twist to the discussion. Still, the best advice when building a new house is to keep the structure back from the water’s edge.

In addition to the general story about beach squeeze, I wrote a sidebar about a study that looked at the effects of this phenomenon on 15 different beaches in the San Juan Islands. See “Forage fish are losing places to lay their eggs.”

Meanwhile, this initial installment of the Shoreline Armoring Series includes a nice piece by science writer Eric Scigliano called “Shoreline armoring’s effect on the food web.” In this story, Eric looks at a broad spectrum of effects caused by bulkheads. He reports on an involved study that focused on a series of paired beaches — one with a bulkhead and one without — located in various parts of Puget Sound.

Most of the studies that we will report on during this series were funded by the Environmental Protection Agency through grants coordinated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan is to release about two additional stories each week over the next two weeks.

Surf smelt spawning zone below low tide mark Illustration: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Surf smelt spawning zone below high tide mark
Illustration: Dan Penttila, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Is Earth Hour losing its inspiration in the U.S.?

If you do an online search for “Earth Hour,” you’ll find lots of people, organizations and businesses around the world participating in this annual event on Saturday. But it appears that enthusiasm in the U.S. and especially Washington state may be waning.

Earth Hour involves the simple act of uniting people throughout the world by turning off the lights, television and other electrical devices for an hour — from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Started in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour sends the message that everyone can be involved in reducing the effects of climate change.

Through the years, I have enjoyed the quiet time, sometimes with family and friends, sometimes with just my wife. Although it seems like a good time to discuss the challenges of climate change, our conversations don’t often go in that direction. Instead, we take a moment to appreciate what we have, talk about things in general or play some sort of game. Hide and Seek in a darkened house is what the kids want to do.

I noticed in my online search that various restaurants around the globe are offering candlelight dinners during Earth Hour this year. I like that idea, although I’m not sure if it fits into the pure spirit of Earth Hour. Still, to get out and be among a larger group of people would be nice.

The Tundra Restaurant & Bar in Toronto, Canada, has created a special menu of locally grown foods for this Saturday’s Earth Hour. All 17 Brasserie Blanc restaurants in England will be celebrating the hour. The DoubleTree Inn in Victoria to the north of here will be dimming the lights throughout the hotel and encouraging people to recognize Earth Hour.

I got a kick out of the message from World Wildlife Fund chapter in Finland:

“This year, we invite Finns to participate in the biggest candle light dinner in the world to awake conversation about ecologically responsible food. We ask people to turn off lights, light up candles and spend an hour with their loved ones enjoying climate-friendly food.

“Food touches every single person, and about 20 percent of our emissions are caused by what we eat. Approximately 60 percent of the emissions are caused in the production and most of them are related to producing meat, eggs and dairy.

“One of the most important things an individual can do to protect climate is eating less meat and more vegetables and sustainable seafood. Thinking about what we eat is a small act with great impact. Organize your own candle light dinner and show your support for action on climate change!”

These are just a few examples of how people are getting into Earth Hour in other countries. However, I’m finding it harder each year to find participants in Washington state, which has always been a major part of the environmental movement. Check out the participant list.

The Space Needle and Pacific Science Center remain on the list for going dark. (I’m not sure how the Space Needle restaurant is involved.) Several other local groups on last year’s list have not signed up so far this year.

The World Wildlife Fund boasts of support from 42,000 cities and towns from 172 countries around the world. In Washington state, Snoqualmie is the only city posted on the official participants list, although Seattle is involved in the challenge to become Earth Hour Capital.

In addition to the Space Needle and Pacific Science Center, landmarks going dark Saturday include the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Empire State Building in New York, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace in London, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Eiffel Towel in Paris, the Borobudur and Prambanan temples in Indonesia, and the Opera House in Sydney, where it all started.

Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, a Filipino Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, urged his followers in Manila to be one with the rest of the world, as part of Pope Francis’ call for “ecological justice,” according to a story by reporter Leslie Ann Aquino in the Manila Bulletin.

St. James Cathedral, Seattle Photo: Wikipedia
St. James Cathedral, Seattle // Photo: Wikipedia

“Let’s turn off our appliances and other things that use electricity to give our world a little rest,” Tagle was quoted as saying.

This year, for the first time, St. James Cathedral in Seattle will participate in Earth Day by darkening its exterior, thus “bringing awareness to the issue of climate change in the spirit of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on environment and poverty,” according to Earth Ministry’s website.

Perhaps before Saturday additional newcomers will become part of Earth Hour, as others renew their participation in the annual event.