MOSCOW, Idaho — Nov. 10, 2016 — Natural resource professionals and citizens across Idaho have noticed changes in recent decades: bigger wildfires, later frosts, earlier blooming lilacs, decreased snowpack. To demonstrate how these changes connect with climate science, a group of current and former University of Idaho researchers launched the website Indicators of Idaho's Changing Climate.
The site, found at www.idahoclimate.org, is designed to help resource managers, government agencies, nonprofit groups, community leaders and members of the public track observed changes in Idaho’s climate and its discernable effects on natural resources.
UI alumnus Ryan Niemeyer will present Indicators of Idaho's Changing Climate and related research at the Northwest Climate Conference, which UI helps to sponsor, in Stevenson, Washington, on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The site is available to the public now.
“Our goal with the project was to provide the science that Idahoans told us they need — the kind of science that helps us make sense of the changes we’ve seen already across our landscapes, and with enough detail to allow Idahoans to plan for the changes to come so that we can make informed decision and not get caught off-guard,” said Zion Klos, who led the project while earning his doctorate in the UI College of Natural Resources and is now a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Indicators of Idaho’s Changing Climate is rooted in the needs of Idahoans. The project began in 2012, when a class of UI graduate students and their faculty advisors in programs including water resources, geography, English, conservation social sciences and fire science worked together to survey 100 Idaho natural resource professionals about their perceptions of and concerns about climate impacts germane to Idaho.
“We decided we wanted to go out and see what people cared about first,” said Alycia Bean, a student in the 2012 class who is now working toward a doctorate in geography in the UI College of Science. “Whether they attribute it to climate change or not, it’s something that affects them personally and professionally.”
The survey participants were most concerned about water resource availability, drought, changes in plant productivity and wildland fire. Concerns related to recreation and transportation were least important. The participants also stated what scientific data — such as annual precipitation levels, stream flows and growing season length —would be most useful within their work.
The researchers compiled statewide observations from 1975 to 2010 to illustrate trends for the climate indicators that survey participants ranked as being pertinent to the state: temperature and growing season, rainfall, snowpack, stream flow, stream temperature, wildland fire, plants and forests, salmon migration and wildlife.
The Indicators of Idaho’s Changing Climate website allows visitors to explore these data. The study documents significant increases in statewide temperature, the length of the growing season, forested area burned and an earlier bloom date of lilac. Many of these statewide indicators reflect observations both regionally and globally, but provide a place-based perspective and baseline for the state of Idaho.
“Downscaling the global data and making it relevant to Idahoans is going to make it more applicable to Idaho natural resource managers,” Bean said.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Weather, Climate and Society in July 2015, then began work to launch the website so the information could reach the people who needed it most.
“We’re hoping we can address a little bit of the gap between science and action,” Bean said. “We’re making it really easy for people to access, hoping it makes it easier for them to utilize.”