Climate change impacts on streamflow extremes and summertime stream temperature and their possible consequences for freshwater salmon habitat in Washington State
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This study evaluates the sensitivity of Washington State’s freshwater habitat of Pacific Salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) to climate change. Our analysis focuses on summertime stream temperatures, seasonal low flows, and changes in peak and base flows because these physical factors are likely to be key pressure points for many of Washington’s salmon populations. Weekly summertime water temperatures and extreme daily high and low streamflows are evaluated under multimodel composites for A1B and B1 greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Simulations predict rising water temperatures will thermally stress salmon throughout Washington’s watersheds, becoming increasingly severe later in the twenty-first century. Streamflow simulations predict that basins strongly influenced by transient runoff (a mix of direct runoff from cool-season rainfall and springtime snowmelt) are most sensitive to climate change. By the 2080s, hydrologic simulations predict a complete loss of Washington’s snowmelt dominant basins, and only about ten transient basins remaining in the north Cascades. Historically transient runoff watersheds will shift towards rainfall dominant behavior, undergoing more severe summer low flow periods and more frequent days with intense winter flooding. While cool-season stream temperature changes and impacts on salmon are not assessed in this study, it is possible that climate-induced warming in winter and spring will benefit parts of the freshwater life-cycle of some salmon populations enough to increase their reproductive success (or overall fitness). However, the combined effects of warming summertime stream temperatures and altered streamflows will likely reduce the reproductive success for many Washington salmon populations, with impacts varying for different life history-types and watershed-types. Diminishing streamflows and higher stream temperatures in summer will be stressful for stream-type salmon populations that have freshwater rearing periods in summer. Increased winter flooding in transient runoff watersheds will likely reduce the egg-to-fry survival rates for ocean-type and stream-type salmon.
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