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 consider extreme weather and rising temperatures. Extreme weather events, like frequent droughts and stronger storms, are examples of what will increasingly occur. ​All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Extreme weather events can drastically alter biodiversity, increase the frequency of  heat waves, wildfires, dust stormserosion, and floods. Extreme weather also harms the agricultural industry and the economy. 

Learn more about extreme weather.


Higher spring and summer temperatures due to climate change cause earlier spring snowmelt. These weather changes cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought, and turning forests into kindling, particularly in the Western United States. Wildfires threaten air quality, your health, the economy, and the environment.

Climate scientists project that the number of acres burned by wildfires each year in the Northwest may reach 1.1 million acres by the 2040s. This puts both Washington’s air quality and forests at risk.

Learn more about wildfires in Washington.

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.

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.

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.

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.