A large crowd of 60 showed up at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). The topic of climate change has been common in the news.
With everyone buzzing over the growing concern about climate change and
global warming, few people have considered what impacts global warming have had
on Indian Country. So, in 2001, Kyle
began a study to map out the impacts of observed climate change on tribal
treaty lands here in the
Impacts of Global Warming on Salmon
Using temperature, precipitation, and stream flow data, Kyle (with the help of co-worker David Graves, a GIS specialist) looked at the changing climate trends for the last 100 years in the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Yakama sub-basins:
· On average, the sub-basin day-temperatures increased by 0.2 to 1.7 degF during the last 100 years,
· Night-temperatures increased by 0.6 to 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit (an increase that is two to four times faster than the trend of the day temperature), and
· Annual precipitation has increased by 2% to 28% during the last 100 years.
These changes in temperature and precipitation profoundly impact the sub-basin flow timing and volumes. On average, the timing of the spring snow-melt sequence has moved 1 to 23 days earlier during the last 100 years while the volume of the spring-summer runoff has shifted towards autumn-winter by an average of 2 % to 37%. These changes mean that there is less winter snow, earlier snowmelt, and less spring-summer flow. The warming winter temperatures cause the salmon fry to emerge from the river gravels weeks earlier than expected and the premature hatching means that late winter food supplies may be scarce for the young.
However, changes in winter climate patterns are not the only problem. Warming summer water temperatures are a major concern to salmon populations.
During the 1940s, it was rare for summer seasonal water temperatures to exceed 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the state water quality standard for salmon. However now, that critical threshold for salmon is exceeded half of the time.
In the last ten years alone, the warming climate has not only influenced the juvenile salmon and water quality standards but it has greatly altered the migratory behavior of adult salmon. Instead of seeing a gradual “bell-shaped” curve of migrating salmon in late August and early September, the adult salmon are forced to hang out in the cold water pools of the river bottom, and then burst over the fish ladders when the river water cools to below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The runs are no longer a progression over time, they are sporadic opportunities to migrate when the water temperatures and conditions allow.
Global Warming Impacts on Tribal Lands
Research from the
The threats of climate change extend beyond the immediate impacts to tribal lands and fisheries to a number of other environmental disasters. Research from the CIG suggests that the Pacific Northwest will warm by +1.4 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 and the annual precipitation will change by -4% to +7%. Snow packs will decline even more with a major loss of the low elevation snow and part of the mid-elevation snow. There will be lower spring and summer flows, summer water temperatures will continue to rise, the frequency of drought is expected to double, we will see more extremes in weather patterns, and more forest fires and pest/disease infestations.
Unfortunately, climate change is threatening on a global scale as well
as local. Kyle, who is of Danish
descent, traveled to
The Danish scientists expressed concern that a meltdown of the Arctic sea-ice and Greenland glaciers could not only disrupt, but shut down, the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic Ocean—it has already slowed by 30% since 1992. This would stop the transport of warm tropical water northward and could trigger a sharp cooling, known as the “Tipping Point” scenario (a.k.a., Dansgaard-Oeschger or Heinrich events) toward ice-age levels in the lands surrounding the north Atlantic and possibly the northern Hemisphere.
While the scientists at the
The Danish scientists and researchers are not the only ones talking
about the potential impacts of global warming; even the native peoples of
But the million dollar question is when can we expect this “Tipping
Point” to occur? Some
The potential impacts of global warming will not be pleasant. We must ask ourselves: what can be done to prevent a “Tipping Point” scenario? Kyle believes that there needs to be more resiliency and flexibility built into our ecosystems and economies. This will help us to be prepared to handle increased climate change, the variability associated with those changes, and the possibility of a “Tipping Point” event. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using “green” energy (e.g., wind, ocean, solar) and absorbing and reducing current greenhouse gas levels are all key strategies to postponing, and ultimately preventing, the “Tipping Point” scenario from occurring. Improving water supply forecast methods and more adaptive water reservoir strategies are needed to adequately manage our water supply for fish and other uses during a time of uncertainty. Kyle says we should be proactive, in the face of uncertainty, before it is too late. While a lot of uncertainty lies ahead of us, it is important to note that it is not too late to prevent “Tipping Point”- if we want a future for our children and the salmon.
After the talk concluded, Kyle
asked the staff of OMSI to come forward, as he had a “special good deed” to
perform. Kyle presented and donated a
book, entitled “Climate Change Research – Danish Contributions” from the
Note-taker: Kyle Dittmer, OR-AMS President