UW News

November 29, 2018

Forests, human health, Northwest outlook: UW researchers involved in Fourth National Climate Assessment

UW News

University of Washington researchers were among hundreds of authors on a new volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, an assessment of climate change across the nation produced every four years by the federal government.

cover of Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II showing wildfires The first volume of the fourth assessment, released in 2017, looked at the physical science underlying the report. Sarah Doherty, a research scientist at the UW Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean, was an author on chapter two, “Our changing climate,” that provides an overview and update of the first volume. The rest of the second volume, released Nov. 23, focuses on impacts, risks and adaptation across the United States.

Kristie Ebi, a UW professor of both global health and environmental and occupational health sciences, was a lead author of the chapter on human health. This chapter looked at human health effects from exposure to heatwaves, floods, droughts and other extreme events; infectious diseases; changes in our food and water; and mental health and well-being. The chapter also assessed the health co-benefits of various mitigation policies that address climate change.

Previous versions of the climate assessments considered various impacts, such as from extreme weather events or for public health, separately, Ebi told Bloomberg Environment. The new report, she said, includes regional chapters that consider the interconnected and often compounding risks within the Northwest and other regions.

Read the UW News Q&A with Peterson and Halofsky on how national parks and forests are preparing for climate change

Two researchers at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences contributed to the new assessment’s chapter on forests. Professor David Peterson was one of two coordinating lead authors, and research scientist Jessica Halofsky was a technical contributor. The chapter looked at how extreme weather, including droughts, will make wildfires more frequent and intense nationally and in specific regions of the U.S. It also describes how climate change will affect other ecological disturbances, such as insects. The authors find that many options exist to reduce the largely negative effects of climate change, and list how federal agencies and other entities are already implementing adaptation measures across the United States.

The national assessment includes 10 chapters that focus on impacts, risks and adaptation in specific regions. The Climate Impacts Group‘s former deputy director, Joe Casola, was an author on the Northwest chapter. (Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group, was a lead author in 2014 of the previous assessment’s Northwest chapter). The new report emphasizes many of the same impacts on water, coasts, forests and agriculture in the Northwest. The Northwest region has warmed almost 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, with a portion of the warming directly linked to human-caused climate change. The authors use 2015, a year characterized by record-breaking warm and dry conditions, to explore how climate change will be experienced in the Northwest region. This chapter, and the larger national assessment, emphasizes how climate change will disproportionately affect poor and disadvantaged people and Indigenous communities.

David Butman, an assistant professor of environmental and forest sciences and of civil and environmental engineering, contributed to the second State of the Carbon Cycle Report, also released Nov. 23, for the first time in conjunction with the national climate assessment. This report each decade summarizes carbon-cycle science, or how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels moves through the Earth system across North America. Butman was the lead author of the chapter focused on inland waters and a contributing author to the second chapter on biogeochemical effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. Margaret Redsteer, an assistant professor at UW Bothell, contributed to the carbon cycle report’s chapter on tribal lands.

Anthony Arendt, a research scientist in the Polar Science Center at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, was a contributor to the Fourth National Climate Assessment’s regional chapter focused on Alaska. Former UW research scientist Samantha Siedlecki, now a faculty member at the University of Connecticut, was an author on the climate assessment’s chapter on oceans and marine resources.


For more information, contact Ebi at krisebi@uw.edu, Peterson at wild@uw.edu, Heidi Roop at the Climate Impacts Group at hroop@uw.edu and Butman at dbutman@uw.edu.