Aquatic Sciences

, 80:3 | Cite as

Longitudinal thermal heterogeneity in rivers and refugia for coldwater species: effects of scale and climate change

  • A. H. FullertonEmail author
  • C. E. Torgersen
  • J. J. Lawler
  • E. A. Steel
  • J. L. Ebersole
  • S. Y. Lee
Research Article


Climate-change driven increases in water temperature pose challenges for aquatic organisms. Predictions of impacts typically do not account for fine-grained spatiotemporal thermal patterns in rivers. Patches of cooler water could serve as refuges for anadromous species like salmon that migrate during summer. We used high-resolution remotely sensed water temperature data to characterize summer thermal heterogeneity patterns for 11,308 km of second–seventh-order rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California (USA). We evaluated (1) water temperature patterns at different spatial resolutions, (2) the frequency, size, and spacing of cool thermal patches suitable for Pacific salmon (i.e., contiguous stretches ≥ 0.25 km, ≤ 15 °C and ≥ 2 °C, aooler than adjacent water), and (3) potential influences of climate change on availability of cool patches. Thermal heterogeneity was nonlinearly related to the spatial resolution of water temperature data, and heterogeneity at fine resolution (< 1 km) would have been difficult to quantify without spatially continuous data. Cool patches were generally > 2.7 and < 13.0 km long, and spacing among patches was generally > 5.7 and < 49.4 km. Thermal heterogeneity varied among rivers, some of which had long uninterrupted stretches of warm water ≥ 20 °C, and others had many smaller cool patches. Our models predicted little change in future thermal heterogeneity among rivers, but within-river patterns sometimes changed markedly compared to contemporary patterns. These results can inform long-term monitoring programs as well as near-term climate-adaptation strategies.


Cold-water patch Intermediate scale Connectivity Water temperature Spatial patterns Refugia 



Remotely sensed river temperature survey data were provided by R. Faux, Quantum Spatial Inc. and D. Essig, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. We are grateful to the many local, state, federal, tribal and nongovernmental organizations that funded the collection of these data for water quality monitoring and assessment. We thank D. Miller, L. Crozier, and T. Beechie for helpful discussions, and B. Feist, S. Morley, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on the manuscript. Funding from the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the NOAA Advanced Studies Program supported this work. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the U.S. Government. This article has been peer reviewed and approved for publication consistent with USGS Fundamental Science Practices ( Any use of trade, product or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Supplementary material

27_2017_557_MOESM1_ESM.docx (801 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 801 KB)
27_2017_557_MOESM2_ESM.docx (60 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 60 KB)


  1. Angilletta MJ, Niewiarowski PH, Navas CA (2002) The evolution of thermal physiology in ectotherms. J Therm Biol 27:249–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arismendi I, Johnson SL, Dunham JB, Haggerty R, Hockman-Wert D (2012) The paradox of cooling streams in a warming world: regional climate trends do not parallel variable local trends in stream temperature in the Pacific continental United States. Geophys Res Lett 39:L10401. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arismendi I, Johnson SL, Dunham JB, Haggerty R (2013) Descriptors of natural thermal regimes in streams and their responsiveness to change in the Pacific Northwest of North. Am Freshw Biol 58:880–894. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armstrong JB, Schindler DE (2013) Going with the flow: spatial distributions of juvenile coho salmon track an annually shifting mosaic of water temperature. Ecosystems 16:1429–1441. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arrigoni AS, Poole GC, Mertes LAK, O’Daniel SJ, Woessner WW, Thomas SA (2008) Buffered, lagged, or cooled? Disentangling hyporheic influences on temperature cycles in stream channels. Wat Res Res 44:W09418. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beechie T et al (2012) Restoring salmon habitat for a changing climate. River Res Appl 29:939–960. Google Scholar
  7. Breau C, Cunjak RA, Peake SJ (2011) Behaviour during elevated water temperatures: can physiology explain movement of juvenile Atlantic salmon to cool water? J Anim Ecol 80:844–853. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Breiman L (2001) Random forests. Mach Learn 45:5–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brett JR (1971) Energetic responses of salmon to temperature - study of some thermal relations in physiology and freshwater ecology of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka). Am Zool 11:99–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brewitt KS, Danner EM (2014) Spatio-temporal temperature variation influences juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) use of thermal refuges. Ecosphere 5:art92. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chiaramonte LV, Ray RA, Corum RA, Soto T, Hallett SL, Bartholomew JL (2016) Klamath River thermal refuge provides juvenile salmon reduced exposure to the parasite Ceratonova shasta. Trans Am Fish Soc 145:810–820. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crozier LG, Hutchings JA (2014) Plastic and evolutionary responses to climate change in fish. Evol Appl 7:68–87. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Crozier LG, Zabel RW, Hockersmith EE, Achord S (2010) Interacting effects of density and temperature on body size in multiple populations of Chinook salmon. J Anim Ecol 79:342–349. doi: CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Cutler DR, Edwards TC Jr, Beard KH, Cutler A, Hess KT, Gibson J, Lawler JJ (2007) Random forests for classification in ecology. Ecology 88:2783–2792CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dalton MM, Mote PW, Snover AK (2013) Climate change in the Northwest: implications for our landscapes, waters, and communities. Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Washington, D.C.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dietrich JP, Van Gaest AL, Strickland SA, Arkoosh MR (2014) The impact of temperature stress and pesticide exposure on mortality and disease susceptibility of endangered Pacific salmon. Chemosphere 108:353–359. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Dugdale SJ, Bergeron NE, St-Hilaire A (2013) Temporal variability of thermal refuges and water temperature patterns in an Atlantic salmon river. Remote Sens Environ 136:358–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dugdale SJ, Bergeron NE, St-Hilaire A (2015a) Spatial distribution of thermal refuges analysed in relation to riverscape hydromorphology using airborne thermal infrared imagery. Remote Sens Environ 160:43–55. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dugdale SJ, Franssen J, Corey E, Bergeron NE, Lapointe M, Cunjak RA (2015b) Main stem movement of Atlantic salmon parr in response to high river temperature. Ecol Freshw Fish Preprint. Google Scholar
  20. Ebersole JL, Liss WJ, Frissell CA (2003a) Cold water patches in warm streams: physicochemical characteristics and the influence of shading. J Am Water Resour Assoc 39:355–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ebersole JL, Liss WJ, Frissell CA (2003b) Thermal heterogeneity, stream channel morphology, and salmonid abundance in northeastern Oregon streams Can. J Fish Aquat Sci 60:1266–1280. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ebersole JL, Wigington PJ, Leibowitz SG, Comeleo RL, Sickle JV (2015) Predicting the occurrence of cold-water patches at intermittent and ephemeral tributary confluences with warm rivers. Freshw Sci 34:111–124. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fenkes M, Shiels HA, Fitzpatrick JL, Nudds RL (2016) The potential impacts of migratory difficulty, including warmer waters and altered flow conditions, on the reproductive success of salmonid fishes. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 193:11–21. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Flitcroft RL, Burnett KM, Reeves GH, Ganio LM (2012) Do network relationships matter? Comparing network and instream habitat variables to explain densities of juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) in mid-coastal Oregon, USA. Aquat Conserv Mar Freshw Ecosyst 22:288–302 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fukushima M, Shimazaki H, Rand PS, Kaeriyama M (2011) Reconstructing Sakhalin taimen Parahucho Perryi historical distribution and identifying causes for local extinctions. Trans Am Fish Soc 140:1–13. Google Scholar
  26. Fullerton AH et al (2015) Rethinking the longitudinal stream temperature paradigm: region-wide comparison of thermal infrared imagery reveals unexpected complexity of river temperatures. Hydrol Process 29:4719–4737. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hamlet AF (2010) Assessing water resources adaptive capacity to climate change impacts in the Pacific Northwest Region of North America. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci Discuss 7:4437–4471. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hamlet AF, Elsner MM, Mauger GS, Lee S-Y, Tohver I, Norheim RA (2013) An overview of the Columbia basin climate change scenarios project: approach, methods, and summary of key results. Atmos Ocean 51:392–415. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Handcock RN, Torgersen CE, Cherkauer KA, Gillespie AR, Tockner K, Faux RN, Tan J (2012) Thermal infrared remote sensing of water temperature in riverine landscapes. In: Carbonneau P, Piégay H (eds) Fluvial remote sensing for science and management, vol 1. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 85–113. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Harvey BC, Nakamoto RJ (1996) Effects of steelhead density on growth of coho salmon in a small coastal California stream. Trans Am Fish Soc 125:237–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hasler CT, Mossop B, Patterson DA, Hinch SG, Cooke SJ (2012) Swimming activity of migrating Chinook salmon in a regulated river. Aquat Biol 17:47–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hinch SG, Cooke SJ, Farrell AP, Miller KM, Lapointe M, Patterson DA (2012) Dead fish swimming: a review of research on the early migration and high premature mortality in adult Fraser River sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka. J Fish Biol 81:576–599. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Isaak DJ, Rieman BE (2013) Stream isotherm shifts from climate change and implications for distributions of ectothermic organisms. Glob Change Biol 19:742–751. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Isaak DJ, Wollrab S, Horan D, Chandler G (2012) Climate change effects on stream and river temperatures across the northwest U.S. from 1980 to 2009 and implications for salmonid fishes. Clim Change 113:499–524. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Isaak DJ, Young MK, Nagel DE, Horan DL, Groce MC (2015) The cold-water climate shield: delineating refugia for preserving salmonid fishes through the 21st century. Glob Change Biol 21:2541–2553. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Isaak DJ et al (2016) Slow climate velocities of mountain streams portend their role as refugia for cold-water biodiversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. Jefferson AJ (2011) Seasonal versus transient snow and the elevation dependence of climate sensitivity in maritime mountainous regions. Geophys Res Lett 38:L16402. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kaushal SS et al (2010) Rising stream and river temperatures in the United States. Front Ecol Environ 8:461–466. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Keefer ML, Caudill CC (2015) Estimating thermal exposure of adult summer steelhead and fall Chinook salmon migrating in a warm impounded river. Ecol Freshw Fish Preprint. Google Scholar
  40. Keefer ML, Peery CA, High B (2009) Behavioral thermoregulation and associated mortality trade-offs in migrating adult steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss): variability among sympatric populations Can. J Fish Aquat Sci 66:1734–1747. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Keppel G, Mokany K, Wardell-Johnson GW, Phillips BL, Welbergen JA, Reside AE (2015) The capacity of refugia for conservation planning under climate change. Front Ecol Environ 13:106–112. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kingsland SE (2002) Creating a science of nature reserve design: perspectives from history. Environ Model Assess 7:61–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kurylyk BL, MacQuarrie KTB, Linnansaari T, Cunjak RA, Curry RA (2015) Preserving, augmenting, and creating cold-water thermal refugia in rivers: concepts derived from research on the Miramichi River, New Brunswick (Canada). Ecohydrology 8:1095–1108. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lindeman AA, Grant JWA, Desjardins CM (2015) Density-dependent territory size and individual growth rate in juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Ecol Freshw Fish 24:15–22. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lisi PJ, Schindler DE, Bentley KT, Pess GR (2013) Association between geomorphic attributes of watersheds, water temperature, and salmon spawn timing in Alaskan streams. Geomorphology 185:78–86. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Luce C, Staab B, Kramer M, Wenger S, Isaak D, McConnell C (2014) Sensitivity of summer stream temperatures to climate variability in the Pacific Northwest. Wat Res Res 50:3428–3443. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mantua N, Tohver I, Hamlet A (2010) Climate change impacts on streamflow extremes and summertime stream temperature and their possible consequences for freshwater salmon habitat in Washington. State Clim Change 102:187–223. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Marcos-Lopez M, Gale P, Oidtmann BC, Peeler EJ (2010) Assessing the impact of climate change on disease emergence in freshwater fish in the United Kingdom. Transbound Emerg Dis 57:293–304. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Mayer TD (2012) Controls of summer stream temperature in the Pacific. Northwest J Hydrol 475:323–335. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McCullough DA et al (2009) Research in thermal biology: burning questions for coldwater stream fishes. Rev Fish Sci 17:90–115. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Minder JR, Mote PW, Lundquist JD (2010) Surface temperature lapse rates over complex terrain: lessons from the Cascade Mountains. J Geophys Res. Google Scholar
  52. Monk WA, Wilbur NM, Curry RA, Gagnon R, Faux RN (2013) Linking landscape variables to cold water refugia in rivers. J Environ Manage 118:170–176. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Morelli TL et al (2016) Managing Climate Change Refugia for Climate Adaptation. PLoS One 11:e0159909. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. Muñoz NJ, Farrell AP, Heath JW, Neff BD (2014) Adaptive potential of a Pacific salmon challenged by climate change. Nat Clim Change 5:163–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) (2015) Jeopardy and destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat: endangered species act biological opinion for “the environmental protection agency’s proposal approval of certain oregon water quality standards including temperature and intragravel dissolved oxygen”. NMFS No. WCR-2013–76.West Coast Region, Portland, Oregon.
  56. Orr HG et al (2015) Detecting changing river temperatures in England and Wales. Hydrol Process 29:752–766. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Palmer J et al (2003) EPA Region 10 Guidance for Pacific Northwest state and tribal temperature water quality standards. EPA 910-B-03–002. Region 10 Office of Water, Seattle, WA.
  58. Penaluna BE et al (2015) Local variability mediates vulnerability of trout populations to land use and climate change. PLoS One 10:e0135334. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  59. Peterson EE et al (2013) Modelling dendritic ecological networks in space: an integrated network perspective. Ecol Lett 16:707–719. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Petty JT, Hansbarger JL, Huntsman BM, Mazik PM (2012) Brook trout movement in response to temperature, flow, and thermal refugia within a complex Appalachian riverscape. Trans Am Fish Soc 141:1060–1073. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Poole GC et al (2004) The case for regime-based water quality standards. Bioscience 54:155–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. R Development Core Team (2015) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. ISBN: 3–900051-07-0,
  63. Richter A, Kolmes SA (2005) Maximum temperature limits for Chinook, coho, and chum salmon, and steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest. Rev Fish Sci 13:23–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Schlosser IJ (1995) Critical landscape attributes that influence fish population-dynamics in headwater streams. Hydrobiologia 303:71–81. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Simberloff D, Abele LG (1982) Refuge design and island biogeographic theory: effects of fragmentation. Am Nat 120:41–50. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Snyder CD, Hitt NP, Young JA (2015) Accounting for groundwater in stream fish thermal habitat responses to climate change. Ecol Appl 25:1397–1419CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Steel EA, Tillotson A, Larsen DA, Fullerton AH, Denton KP, Beckman BR (2012) Beyond the mean: the role of variability in predicting ecological effects of stream temperature on salmon. Ecosphere 3:art104 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Steel EA, Sowder C, Peterson EE (2016) Spatial and temporal variation of water temperature regimes on the Snoqualmie River network. J Am Water Resour Assoc 52:769–787. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Steel EA, Beechie TJ, Torgersen CE, Fullerton AH (2017) Envisioning, quantifying, and managing thermal regimes on river networks. Bioscience 67:506–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sutton R, Soto T (2012) Juvenile coho salmon behavioural characteristics in Klamath river summer thermal refugia. River Res Appl 28:338–346. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sutton RJ, Deas ML, Tanaka SK, Soto T, Corum RA (2007) Salmonid observations at a Klamath River thermal refuge under various hydrological and meteorological conditions. River Res Appl 23:775–785. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Tague C, Farrell M, Grant G, Lewis S, Rey S (2007) Hydrogeologic controls on summer stream temperatures in the McKenzie River basin, Oregon. Hydrol Process 21:3288–3300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tague C, Grant G, Farrell M, Choate J, Jefferson A (2008) Deep groundwater mediates streamflow response to climate warming in the Oregon Cascades. Clim Change 86:189–210. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Taylor KE, Stouffer RJ, Meehl GA (2012) An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 93:485–498. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tohver IM, Hamlet AF, Lee S-Y (2014) Impacts of 21st-century climate change on hydrologic extremes in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. J Am Water Resour Assoc 50:1461–1476. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Torgersen CE, Price DM, Li HW, McIntosh BA (1999) Multiscale thermal refugia and stream habitat associations of Chinook salmon in northeastern. Oregon Ecol Appl 9:301–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Torgersen CE, Ebersole JL, Keenan DM (2012) Primer for identifying cold-water refuges to protect and restore thermal diversity in riverine landscapes. Region 10, US. Environmental Protection Agency, Agreement No. DW-14–95755001-0. Seattle, WAGoogle Scholar
  78. Wade AA et al (2013) Steelhead vulnerability to climate change in the Pacific Northwest. J Appl Ecol 50:1093–1104. Google Scholar
  79. Wawrzyniak V, Piégay H, Allemand P, Vaudor L, Goma R, Grandjean P (2016) Effects of geomorphology and groundwater level on the spatio-temporal variability of riverine cold water patches assessed using thermal infrared (TIR) remote sensing. Remote Sens Environ 175:337–348. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Welty EZ (2015) Linbin: binning and plotting of linearly referenced data. R package version 0.1.0. linbin/
  81. Whitney JE et al (2016) Physiological basis of climate change impacts on North American inland fishes. Fisheries 41:332–345. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Woolnough DA, Downing JA, Newton TJ (2009) Fish movement and habitat use depends on water body size and shape. Ecol Freshw Fish 18:83–91. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wu H, Kimball JS, Elsner MM, Mantua N, Adler RF, Stanford J (2012) Projected climate change impacts on the hydrology and temperature of Pacific Northwest rivers. Wat Res Res 48:W11530. Google Scholar
  84. Zeug SC, Albertson LK, Lenihan H, Hardy J, Cardinale B (2011) Predictors of Chinook salmon extirpation in California’s Central Valley. Fish Manag Ecol 18:61–71. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© US Government (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. H. Fullerton
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. E. Torgersen
    • 2
  • J. J. Lawler
    • 3
  • E. A. Steel
    • 4
  • J. L. Ebersole
    • 5
  • S. Y. Lee
    • 6
  1. 1.Fish Ecology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science CenterNational Marine Fisheries ServiceSeattleUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Cascadia Field StationUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.School of Environmental and Forest SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Pacific Northwest Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceSeattleUSA
  5. 5.National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyCorvallisUSA
  6. 6.Climate Impacts GroupUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations