Aquatic Ecosystems

Climate change and future stream temperatures in the interior Columbia River Basin

Contact First Name: 
Contact Last Name: 
Principal Investigator(s): 
Steve Wondzell
FS Research Station(s): 
Pacific Northwest Research Station

Restoring riparian forests on streams where historic land uses have created open meadows could reduce maximum stream temperatures by as much as 7o C relative to current conditions, even under a future climate when air temperatures are 4o C warmer than today.

Project Abstract: 

Summer maximum stream temperatures are near thresholds of thermal tolerance for salmon and trout in many streams throughout the interior Columbia River Basin. Salmon and trout populations in many of these streams are severely depressed, resulting in efforts to restore stream and riparian habitat. Climate change raises serious questions about the long-term outcomes of restoration because projected warming could make many of these streams and rivers uninhabitable for salmon and trout within a few decades.

We used the mechanistic stream temperature model, HeatSource, to examine future changes in stream temperature on the upper Middle Fork John Day River. Our model scenarios examined: 1) a +4 oC increase in air temperature; 2) ±30% changes in stream discharge from both changes in irrigation withdrawals and climate-change related loss of winter snowpacks; and 3) four riparian vegetation scenarios: 3a) current conditions where effective stream shade averages 19%; 3b) a post-wild fire scenario with maximum vegetation height of 1 m and 10% canopy density resulting in 7% effective stream shade; 3c) an intermediate condition representing a young-open forest or tall-shrub dominated vegetation with trees or shrubs 10-m tall and with 30% canopy density resulting in 34% effective shade; and 3d) a restored riparian forest with trees 30-m high and canopy density of 50% resulting in 79% effective stream shade.

Our model results showed the composition and structure of riparian vegetation were the single biggest factor determining future stream temperatures. In contrast, changing air temperature or stream discharge had relatively small influence on future stream temperatures. The post-wildfire and the current-vegetation scenarios were warmer than today, but in both cases, effective shade was low, so the stream was sensitive to air temperature increases due to climate change. The intermediate restoration, simulating a young-open forest or a tall-shrub dominated riparian zone, was slightly cooler than today. The biggest change resulted from restoring the riparian forest which decreased summer maximum temperatures by ~ 7 oC.

Research Results: 

Manuscripts are in progress.

Geographic Region: 
United States
Northern Region (R1)
Pacific Northwest Region (R6)
Project Status: 
Record Entry Date: 
Mon, 09/08/2014

NorEaST - Stream Temperature Web Portal

Overview & Applicability

Stream data are needed to enable managers to understand baseline conditions, historic trends, and potential impacts of climate change on stream temperature and flow, and in turn on aquatic species in freshwater ecosystems.


NorEaST is being developed to provide a coordinated, multi-agency regional web portal to compile, store, map, and distribute continuous stream temperature locations and data across the Northeastern U.S.

Probabilistic models for decision support under climate change

A diagram showing the structure of a model on climate change and fish habitat

Provides an example of how to bring the flood of data and information on climate change together to prioritize conservation and management, using an example of a model for Bull trout in the Boise River basin.

Douglas Peterson
Publication date: 

Introduction of Spatially Explicit Climate Scenarios for the Bull Trout

Map of stream temperatures

Many new tools are becoming available to provide downscaled climate data and help us make management decisions. How do these tools perform when used in an excersize to examine real-world problems? See the example of an exercise done for Bull Trout.

Dan Isaak
Publication date: 

Climate Change and Mangement: How do we use all of this?

Sampling fish in a stream

There is a great deal of scientific information being generated on how aquatic ecosystems may respond to climate change. How do we begin to apply this information and use it in management?

Bruce Rieman
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