UW wins $1.5 million grant to study climate change locally

KENNEWICK – The University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been granted $1.5 million for scientists to study the environmental and economic impact of climate change on areas within the state.

“If you’re going to cope with climate change, you really have to go to the local level,” said L. Ruby Leung, a climate physics scientist at the national laboratory. “Different areas will definitely experience different changes, even on the east side or the west side (of the state).”

The state is funding the study, with the work to begin in July and to be completed in a year and a half to two years.

Leung said the national lab would work on projecting how more than a dozen regions within the state will be affected by rising temperatures, more rain and less snow, while the university will concentrate on the effects of a rising sea level and the impact on crops, agriculture and water resources.

Michael Scott, a national lab scientist who is joining Leung on the project, said the study is not designed to yield a cost-benefit analysis of potential moneymaking opportunities and likely losses from climate change, but to identify the likely impact from climate change on various sectors of the economy.

For example, mountain snowpacks in many areas have been shrinking and scientists anticipate a further 40 percent rejection. Leung and others are predicting changes in the type and timing of precipitation even if the total amount of precipitation in the Pacific Northwest remains the same.

The effect, Leung said, is likely to be that more precipitation will flow directly into the ocean and less will be stored in snowpacks.

“It’s true there’s not much we can do to affect the next 20 to 50 years, but don’t give up hope,” she said. “If we don’t do anything now, imagine what the second half of the century will be like.”

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