Climate change and the environment

Tackling climate change is a priority for us. We're working to protect fish, farms, and Washington's rivers, lakes, and coastline from the damage that rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns will cause. ​

Climate change describes a change in the average conditions over a long period of time. Scientists agree that the Earth has been getting warmer over the last century due to human activities that require burning fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal).

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide becomes trapped in the atmosphere (greenhouse gases) and  increases the planet's temperature. As the Earth's climate continues to warm the results can have big impacts on the environment.

Extreme weather

When people think of climate change, they often only think of day-to-day weather changes. Extreme weather events will increasingly occur if climate change is not immediately addressed. ​As humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere extreme weather events will continue to wreak havoc on the environment, safety, and economy.

Extreme weather events like droughts, wildfires, dust stormserosion, floods, and more frequent and severe thunderstorms can drastically alter biodiversity, and impact the agricultural industry and economy. 

Read about what we are doing to slow rising temperatures caused by human-induced climate change.

Floods

Rising temperatures due to climate change are increasing the risk of flooding. Sea level rise, storm surges, heavier prolonged precipitation, and rapid spring snowmelt are all exacerbated by human-induced warming. Floods and droughts are some of the most dangerous natural disasters. These kinds of disasters cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year. Climate change-related flooding is expected to impact millions of people around the world in the not-so-distant future.

house in river due to flood

We work with local communities by providing grants and technical assistance for floodplain planning.

Learn more about how to identify flood hazardsplan a more flood-resilient landscape, and complete projects that reduce flood risk to both life and property, and protect the vital functions of floodplains.

Water supply

Rising temperatures due to climate change means more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow, reducing snowpack levels, and threatening water supplies for many parts of Washington. In many areas, climate change is likely to increase water demand while water supplies are shrinking. In other areas, an increase in precipitation can lead to flooding, degrading water quality and damaging communities and infrastructure. 

Washington relies on snowpack to feed the streams and rivers as it melts in the spring and summer. We monitor the amount of snow received to replenish that supply.

Learn more about Washington's water supply.

Sea level rise

Rising sea levels are a serious consequence of climate change. On average, sea levels have swelled over eight inches since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the past 25 years. The oceans continue to absorb heat from greenhouse gases, resulting in thermal expansion, melting glaciers, and loss of polar ice sheets. Rising waters can lead to coastal hazards such as flooding and habitat changes. Inland, saltwater can contaminate  wetlands, aquifers, and agricultural soils.

We are partnering with other agencies to prepare for sea level rise along Washington's 3,300 miles of coastline.

Learn more about sea level rise on Washington's coast.

Ocean acidification

When carbon pollution from human activities is absorbed by seawater, the ocean becomes more acidic. These chemical changes can threaten marine life, especially shellfish, corals, and plankton, on which larger marine life depend.

We are working with other agencies to better understand climate change impacts on marine life and the economy. 

Learn more about ocean acidification in Washington and our work on orca recovery.

Wildfires

Over the past several decades, the world has increasingly warmed due to climate change, causing increased potential for wildfires. Snow is melting earlier in the spring leading to soils and forests that are drier, and that stay dry for longer periods of time. This leads to wildfires that can burn hotter and spread faster. These hotter and drier conditions set the stage for more human-ignited wildfires as well. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise we can expect more wildfires, for longer seasons, in the years ahead.

Climate scientists predict 1.1 million acres in the Northwest may succumb to wildfires by the 2040s.This puts  Washington’s air quality, public health, property, and forests at risk.

Learn more about how climate change increases the risk of wildfires.

Scientific reports

Because Earth’s climate is changing faster than at any point in recorded history, it is important to understand and prepare for these changes. We are tracking carbon pollution in Washington, studying its effects on the state's environment, and helping communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

To help protect Washington's natural resources, we write and share reports, conduct studies, and collaborate with other agencies. 

See our collection of reports and studies.