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Puget Sound Feeling the Impact

by: Intelligencer    19 October 2005

The Puget Sound region is feeling the impact of climate change — from flooding to warmer waters — and things could be getting worse, according to a report by University of Washington researchers.

"We've been in denial about this problem," said Brad Ack, director of the Puget Sound Action Team, a state agency responsible for protecting the Puget Sound. "Denial is no longer an option."

The future of the region in the next 100 years is unknown, but the report released this week makes a number of dire predictions: vanishing beaches; increasingly inhospitable water for salmon and shellfish; more rain and less snow, causing a chain reaction of flooding and landslides.

Among the findings in this regional study: The average annual air temperature around the sound rose 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit during the last century, more than double the average increase globally of 1.1 degrees. Water temperatures measured near Victoria, British Columbia, have risen nearly 2 degrees since 1950. Glaciers across the Cascades and Olympic mountains have been shrinking.

Sea levels have swelled globally between 4 and 8 inches over the past century, due to melting glaciers and polar ice. In the future, the southern reaches of the sound are expected to suffer the most from rising tides because of geological changes causing the land to sink as the water rises.

In Friday Harbor, waters could rise less than half a foot by the middle of the century, but Tacoma could see levels increase by more than twice that.

The report suggests climate change will continue to echo across the ecosystem, upsetting links between plants and animals and complicating efforts to manage the threat of a growing human population.

"It's not like we're going to wake up tomorrow and everything will be dead," said Jan Newton, a UW oceanographer who contributed to the 35-page report.

"But we also know that when organisms experience catastrophe, it's most often because they're assaulted by more than one problem at a time. The sooner we recognize that things are under pressure because of climate change, we can look at the stressors we can do something about."