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Updated 12 October, 2003

US National Assessment of
the Potential Consequences
of Climate Variability and Change
Educational Resources
Regional Paper: Pacific Northwest


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About this Paper

This paper examines the potential impacts of climate change on the Pacific Northwest region. It is intended as a resource for educators. The paper's content is based on the National Assessment Synthesis Foundation document entitled: Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change for the Pacific Northwest, -- by Edward A. Parson with contributions from members of the Pacific Northwest Assessment Team: Philip W. Mote, Alan Hamlet, Nathan Mantua, Amy Snover, William Keeton, Ed Miles, Douglas Canning, and Kristyn Gray Ideker, pp. 247-281 in The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change: Foundation Report, Report by the National Assessment Synthesis Team for the US Global Change Research Program, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 620pp., 2001. Also from a workshop attended by representatives from government, industry, academic, tribal, and non-governmental organizations. There were contributions to the workshop and assessment research from stakeholders from many walks of life. Assessment research and other research reports also contributed to this information. Workshop participants identified many potential environmental, social, and economic impacts of climate change that were of concern to them. Four of these are discussed: fresh water, salmon, forests, and coasts. Each topic of concern is addressed in turn below, accompanied by initial suggestions about how the region may be able to cope with or ameliorate the potential impacts.

Several of the identified topics are currently issues of concern to society for reasons other than climate changes. For example, climate change is very likely to increase the rate at which sea level is rising. This is a potential problem because many coastal communities and infrastructure are built in vulnerable locations or according to building codes that are not likely to be stringent enough to protect them. Potential climate impacts give one additional reason for considering actions. It is also important to realize that some of the projected climate changes and their impacts will be gradual and slow to develop while others will be nearer term and more noticeable.

Also, because we are talking about changes and impacts extending over as much as the next 100 years, we may well have time to take actions that could make it easier to moderate the potential negative consequences. The focus of this paper is less on the potential positive consequences because government responsibilities are typically to ameliorate adverse consequences, because they tend to be within the realm of past experience. Positive outcomes typically arise as people identify the opportunities changes present and create new (and less foreseeable) activities. Therefore, caution should be taken in drawing conclusions about potential net consequences - while change will occur, how society responds will be a key determinant for many types of consequences.

For additional information on this region, please see the Pacific Northwest Regional Workshop and Assessment reports and website. Also see the National Assessment Synthesis reports -- Overview and Foundation documents. This paper was developed by Dr. Lynne M. Carter.  Special thanks to Dr. Edward Parson for allowing the use of the Foundation document as the basis for this paper. Thanks also to Dr. Philip Mote, regional assessment director, for contributions to and reviews of the information contained here.

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