Washington Climate Change

Climate-related changes to ecological systems have already been observed in Washington and are expected to rapidly increase throughout the next century, affecting the state’s natural systems, biodiversity, and people. We are breaking through the "business as usual" cycle to find solutions and strategies that address one of our biggest conservation challenges.

Collins Projects

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Conservation in a Changing Climate

Sea Level Rise Monitoring

A new approach to coastal climate change adaptation planning and action is being implemented in Washington as part of the Conservancy's Sea Level Rise Learning Network. This project is developing a broadly applicable toolkit for assessing the vulnerability of coastal wetlands to climate change and identifying actions that will restore the ability of estuaries to survive and adapt. The first two years of the project focused on baseline habitat mapping, condition assessment and identification of restoration projects at three estuaries. The final three years have focused on developing data, computer models, and tools to help managers choose actions that will restore resilient estuaries in the face of a changing environment.

The Nature Conservancy is using its Port Susan Bay Preserve as a case study for building tools to understand and respond to local climate-change impacts. We are coordinating with researchers around the U.S. to identify the essential information necessary to make decisions at the local level. The objective of this project is to develop a tool kit, providing guidelines, information, methods and tools for assessing estuary vulnerability to climate change impacts and for comparing the effects of alternative management choices on reducing those vulnerabilities and increasing the adaptability of an estuary to climate change. The tool kit will also include guidelines on developing an adaptive management program based on the analysis of alternative management options.

Coastal Climate Change Adaptation Tool Kit

To enable the Conservancy to do restoration work that will last in the face of climate change, we sought a powerful computer modeling tool that could simulate the key ecological processes that control how estuaries develop. The Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model (SLAMM) was selected and is used to help evaluate alternative future climate and management scenarios. A new version of SLAMM (v. 6.0) is now capable of modeling the major drivers of estuary ecosystems including sediment accretion, freshwater distribution and water level changes. This new tool is being used around the country. As we continue to develop tools and synthesize them into a toolkit with case studies, we will make them available online. For additional information contact Ecologist, Roger Fuller.

Our project goals include:

  • Collaborating with members of the Conservancy’s Sea-Level Rise Learning Network to identify and fill gaps in tools and knowledge.
  • Collaborating with leading national modelers to improve and disseminate new tools throughout the United States.
  • Developing an on-line Estuary Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit to guide scientists and managers in understanding and managing coastal wetlands from a long-term perspective.
  • Through conference presentations and publications in peer reviewed journals, export the resulting framework, methods, and results to broader conservation and restoration audience.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment


To develop effective adaptive management plans, conservation and natural resource managers need to know how climate change will affect the species and ecosystems they manage. This project will provide managers with information about potential climate change effects on species and managed areas in the Pacific Northwest. We will evaluate projected changes in climate, vegetation, and species distributions through the year 2099 and assess the potential impacts of these changes on key species and managed lands. We will work with conservation and natural resource managers to incorporate the results of this study into state, federal, and non-governmental organization (NGO) management plans. The projected changes in climate, vegetation, and species distributions will be summarized for the entire study region as well as for specific land management units, including National Parks, state and federal fish and wildlife refuges, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) owned and managed sites. For additional information contact Sonia Hall, Sonia Hall.

Our project goals include:

  • Completion of a species vulnerability database.
  • Downscaling future climate simulations to high spatial resolution grids of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Simulating potential future vegetation changes using dynamic vegetation models, which will provide an estimate of potential future habitat change.
  • Modeling potential shifts in the distributions of 12 or more focal animal species.
  • Summarize the uncertainties in the simulated climate, vegetation, and species distribution changes.
  • Working in collaboration with managers to incorporate the research results into conservation and natural resources management plans.



Marshes on the Move (October 2011)

Marshes on the Move provides modeling guidance for resource managers and planners, describing the parameters and issues involved in using wetland migration models that depict the possible responses of coastal wetlands to sea level rise. This work is a collaborative effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.

Download File (9 MB) SLAMM 6 Beta Technical Documentation (2010)

Presents technical information relating to the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM). SLAMM simulates the dominant processes involved in wetland conversions and shoreline modifications during long-term sea level rise. Tidal marshes can be among the most susceptible ecosystems to climate change, especially accelerated sea level rise (SLR).

Download File (1 MB)

Links and Resources


Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM)

SLAMM is a model that can be downloaded and used to simulate the dominant processes involved in wetland conversions and shoreline modifications during long-term sea level rise. Map distributions of wetlands are predicted under conditions of accelerated sea level rise and results are summarized in tabular and graphic form.