Climate-related data collection and research have been conducted in the Skagit for decades. This includes efforts such as air and water temperature monitoring, tracking the volume and timing of water in the Skagit River and its tributaries, and monitoring the changes in the extent and size of glaciers.
Scientists doing climate research in the Skagit basin use different approaches to improve their understanding of climate change and its related impacts. One way is to develop a hypothesis and then test this hypothesis by collecting data. For instance, a hypothesis could be that the glaciers are shrinking as a result of warmer average temperatures. The scientist would collect data average temperatures and the size of the glaciers over time.
Scientists also use models to help them understand how more complex issues, like climate, influence other complex factors, like flooding risk. Models help scientists by creating a structure that shows how multiple things relate to each other. For example, increasing average temperatures result in melting glaciers, which contribute more water to the Skagit river, which changes flood risks or the timing and amount of water available for use by human communities along the river. The modeled structure of these relationships can then be quantified and improved over time by developing individual hypotheses and collecting data that tests how each of the relationships work. Ultimately, scientists seek to be able to take these models, which include real-world data like air and water temperature change, and look forward in time to predict what could happen under future scenarios of climate change. For instance, modeling could show that if the current trend of glacial melting continues that summer ground water levels and summer flows will likely decrease.
Skagit Climate Science Consortium scientists have created a research vision that is a form of a model that shows the relationships between their various research and data collection efforts. They have also begun to create one-page statements describing their current, or not yet published, research efforts; and they are in the process of making their written reports, documents or papers that describe completed research efforts and findings available in a centralized location. Lastly, SC2 scientists have begun to compile a list of priority research gaps that they believe are important to fund in order to answer key scientific questions or reduce the uncertainty of existing findings regarding climate change and its impacts in the Skagit Basin.
One of the goals in the SC2 Strategic Plan is to design, conduct and continue to integrate a Skagit-based climate science research agenda and work plan. 5-year priorities include:
- Peak and low flows
- Fate of the delta
- Sediment source, transport, and deposition
- Water temperature monitoring and modeling
- Climate related trends (historic and future)
- Salmonid and ecosystem impacts and responses
- Sea level rise and waves