PORTLAND — The rain gardens and eco-roofs built into the city’s South Waterfront developments were intended to prevent storm water pollution from running off into the Willamette River.
But on a tour of the area Wednesday, Kaitlin Lovell, manager of the city’s Science, Fish and Wildlife Program, said the extra greenery could also help address another environmental problem scientists are expecting under climate change scenarios: Extreme heat.
“What Portland’s going to see are hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters,” Lovell said. “We’ve got these really big areas of the city where we’re going to experience heat spikes and one of the ways to combat that is by planting more trees, cooling the ground temperature and reducing the effects of pavement.”
The tour, which highlighted several projects that could help the city adapt to climate change, was a prelude to a two-day conference that kicks off Thursday in Portland.
The Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference has been an annual event since 2009, drawing hundreds of experts from across the region to discuss the latest research on climate change.
This year scientists will present new findings on threats to fish and wildlife as climate change alters seasonal temperatures and weather patterns. They’ll look at the latest projections for floods and stream temperatures in the region, and the implications for agriculture and forest management.
Conference chair Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, said he’s expecting about 280 people at the event. Only about half of them are scientists. Many in attendance will be managers looking for guidance on how to adapt to climate change. Mote said a lot of scientists will note in their research papers that their findings could be useful to managers of natural resources without talking with the managers about their findings.
“This conference is all about putting those two groups of people together,” he said. “The experts who are out managing the environment and the experts who are studying the environment.”
Lovell said climate change research shows the city of Portland may also have to adapt to changes in precipitation in the future. There, too, she said, the city has started on projects that could help.
The second stop on Wednesday’s pre-conference tour was a 63-acre restoration project along Johnson Creek that removed 60 houses from a flood-prone stretch of land. The project restored a natural floodplain and its wildlife habitat. But it also increased the city’s capacity to store extra water that could come from heavier winter rain events in the future.
“Climate models show we’re going to get the same amount of precipitation – around 37 inches a year – but when we get it is going to change,” Lovell said. “So instead of having that drizzle we’re famous for, we might actually start getting more downpours. That will increase flows in rivers, potential flooding, landslide hazards, things like that.”
Lovell said she and other city managers are looking to climate scientists to learn how quickly they will need to change their water management systems to avoid damaging floods as precipitation patterns change.
“The science isn’t quite there yet,” she said, “but we’re tracking it so we can adapt.”