Study links climate change to warmer Oregon streams

Study links climate change to warmer Oregon streams
by Keely Chalmers

November 2, 2012

A new study by Oregon researchers claims climate change is causing double trouble for our salmon.

The snow that blankets Mount Hood is much more than just a pretty sight.

It feeds the streams and rivers below it, giving fish the habitat they need to survive.
But now some researchers say that habitat is at risk.

“The fish and other aquatic organisms are under a higher stress,” said Ivan Arismendi, a research professor in Oregon State University’s department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Arismendi and a team of researchers from the USGS and the U.S. Forest Service analyzed 60 years of data taken from 22 streams across the Pacific Northwest.

In doing so they made a troubling discovery.

“[We are seeing] early peak flow… It’s because there is, one, less snow-pack available and, second, the snow-pack is melting earlier because of warmer temperatures in the spring,” said Arismendi.

The researchers found that the mountain snow-pack we rely on to feed our streams and help keep them cool throughout the summer is melting much earlier than it used to.

As a result, the streams are at their lowest levels just about the time we are getting our highest temperatures of the season.

That means salmon and other fish in the streams are having to spend a longer stretch in not only less water but also warmer water.

John DeVoe, Executive Director of Waterwatch of Oregon described it as “a train wreck in slow motion.”

DeVoe says this trend could prove detrimental to our fish and the billions of dollars they contribute to the local economy.

“Many of them have evolved to live in cold water, and so as the waters gets warmer and warmer, it becomes more difficult for them to survive and thrive,” said DeVoe.

Arismendi believes climate change is responsible for the warmer stream water, because the streams they studied are remote with little other influence from humans.