Monday, 8 February 2016

Post 72: Northwest Climate Conference 2015 -- An Overdue Review

This past November I attended the Northwest Climate Conference 2015 (formerly the Pacific Northwest Climate Conference), held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a very cute little town that I hadn't visited since childhood on a trip with my grandparents. I attended in my capacity as a research assistant at Royal Roads under Dr. Johanna Wolf, a contract I've had for the past year. Excitingly, she was invited to speak as one of the closing keynote panelists, and I think her talk went really well! A significant number of the talks from the conference are available with this link here.

Beautiful clouds on the flight down.
Overall, the conference was great. I heard Bill Geer, the recently retired Climate Change Initiative Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, deliver a talk on his travels through the Pacific Northwest to engage with hunting groups and associations—folks who can be a bit more politically conservative—to look at the observations they had already made about population shifts and range changes for many of the species they regularly engage with during the hunting season. This led to making some connections about the impacts of climate change where they hadn't, perhaps, before been made, and this is fantastic!

Overall, a nice component of the project was that it did connect practitioners and scientists, and I was really happy to see a group of high school students in attendance from the local school because of a really intrepid teacher. In retrospect, I have also been amazed by the seeming united front that some of the state governments and the federal government presence showed at the conference. We have nothing like that here in Canada, and the variability of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments' approaches and progress on adaptation is apparent very quickly. In the research project that we took to the conference, for example, I recall one local decision-maker highlight that at a recent meeting (Fall 2015), one of the mayors of a municipality with a significant amount of coastline had leaned in to ask this person if they had been thinking about sea level rise for their municipality, implying that he never had. This decision-maker was shocked that this municipality's main man hadn't thought about this issue before! 

Loved this little sand spit in I saw somewhere in the Puget Sound area as we got
near Seattle! It looks like a dinosaur to me!
While I skipped the Tools Cafe and opted for a short break from the conference instead, I did attend the Adaptation Speed-Dating event that took place at lunch time on the second day, offering a recommendation for how like-minded groups can communicate (not a new email or list-serve or newsletter, please, but tap into existing communications networks, and make connections among them). The crammed full schedule of the conference was certainly something to note: it was go go go, and after two and a half days I was exhausted! Definitely way to go on cramming a lot of stuff into a few days, because my brain was certainly filled to the brim with the new people I'd met, and the research I was hearing about, but sometimes I wonder if there isn't a better way to take in information at a conference.... 

In many ways, the logistics were fantastic: the size of the conference (no more than ~320 participants a day) made it fairly easy to find colleagues and speakers that really made me sit up straight and pay attention during their talks. And/or find people I recognized from the conference when I attended two or three years ago. On the note of colleagues, however: myself, Dr. Wolf, and Stephen Sobie, the Regional Climate Impacts Analyst at the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (UVic) were the only Canadians in attendance! I spoke with a few of the organizers about this, and realized that there was a very big opportunity to extend invitations to a much wider group of my Canadian peers and colleagues who would be interested in attending, and an invitation to help do so for the next conference. Take note: those of you interested in climate change, mitigation, and adaptation issues: they don't stop at the 49th Parallel, and look for the 2016 Northwest Climate Conference held in either Seattle, Washington.
I took this as a friendly reminder that yes, my country (The North Pole) is not that far away. :)
There were certainly a number of themes that resonated from when I attended the conference 3 years ago. This year, as in the past, there was much discussion about precipitation and responses to climate. The running hypothesis and projections seem to point to there not being significant differences in precipitation amounts in a warmed climate for the Pacific Northwest, though the form of the precipitation will likely change, and this will have significant downstream impacts. On a few different occasions: "Rain is good, but snow is better!" was stated, and it began to sound a bit like a conference slogan.

Unlike rain, snow extends the seasonality of moisture because of the length of time that snow can last into the year from when it first falls. Rain falls and needs to go somewhere, or be used at once. It has an immediate effect on local hydrologic cycles, while snow has a more prolonged effect. Snow takes longer to melt, and lasts into the spring and early summer, which has directly relationships to timing of peak and low stream flows, and the availability of water for cities, animals, and ecosystems. Snow is a central component of the water cycles in the northwestern states (and British Columbia, too!), and its worrisome that we are seeing snowpack decline, as Phil Mote and colleagues first presented in their 2005 paper "Declining mountain snowpack in western North America."

My first real frost of the year! It came decorating these leaves with beautiful sparkles!
Probably one of the best talks I went to wasn't actually a talk: it was a hands on, adaptation mini-workshop that was hosted by the Climate Impacts Group (CIG), which led us through four key stages of an adaptation planning process for projects that we had on the go. It is the same one that they use with clients to think through various aspects of adaptation. It was very very good.

We were encouraged to tweet (#nwclimate2015) about the conference and while we were there—which was a fantastic idea, and made me think of the positive attention that Canadian researcher Catherine Scott received around Halloween this past year, live-tweeting with grace and humour about the spider sex she was gathering data of in her lab—but to avoid major roaming fees on my cell, I'd left it at home. That made me brainstorm about how to make something like that more accessible for international attendees like me. Maybe guidelines ahead of time about tweeting abroad (using the wireless network) or having a cell-phone share or something like that from a general account for the conference? (My sincere apologies if I am revealing my lack of technological understanding here.) :) But I really appreciated the encouragement to extend the impact of the conference and interest in it through social media while I was there.

Mudgy the Moose; Millie the Mouse is, unfortunately, not easy to see in the dark!
Aside from the intellectual party that the conference was (I really enjoy learning about what research is currently being done and really on the edge of pushing our boundaries of knowledge), it was also a great way to explore a different city in the Pacific Northwest. I went for a lovely two midnight walks along the World's Longest Boardwalk, which extended as a floating boardwalk around their main boat dock area, and met the a few of the local Mudgy the Moose (shown above) and Millie the Mouse statues in town, which mark their walking trails. Overall, it was a great trip, and I hope I can attend next year's conference again.

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