CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University has received a five-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish and coordinate a regional consortium of climate variability assessment, research and outreach.

The funding, which could surpass $3.5 million, will establish the Pacific Northwest Climate Decision Support Consortium - one of six new regional integrated sciences and assessments (RISA) programs funded by NOAA.

OSU researchers will work with colleagues from the University of Oregon, Boise State University, University of Idaho, and University of Washington - as well as the extension programs from Oregon, Washington and Idaho - to address climate assessment needs for businesses, state and federal agencies, municipalities, tribal leaders and non-governmental organizations in the Pacific Northwest.

"This new consortium will advance the ability of agencies and businesses to envision future climate and to make sound business decisions and resource management decisions based on scientific assessments," said Philip Mote, a professor of atmospheric sciences at OSU and director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute on campus.

Mote, who will lead the consortium along with OSU sociologist Denise Lach, came to Oregon State last year from the University of Washington, where he was involved with the Pacific Northwest RISA program that previously was housed in Seattle and was the first of its kind in the nation. These RISA programs, Mote said, are designed to connect scientists with decision-makers who need specific data.

"Next-generation climate services need to do a better job of engaging stakeholders on their needs relating to climate variability," Mote pointed out. "It's not a question of merely reciting potential impacts of climate change; it's helping agencies and businesses develop climate-resilient strategies for long-range planning in managing landscapes, water and energy."

Mote pointed to collaborative research by OSU's John Bolte and the UO's David Hulse as an example of how the new consortium can help Northwest decision-makers. Their Envision project uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to develop community and regional environmental assessments and planning. Together they have worked with community leaders on assessing alternative futures for the Willamette Valley and for the near-shore region of Puget Sound.

The key, Mote said, is to move beyond a theoretical look at the future and try to apply the best science available - while acknowledging that there are different levels of confidence you can have in modeling the future.

"One example is to look at how precipitation in the Pacific Northwest may change and the impact that would have on stream flows," Mote said. "If stream flows become higher in the spring, and lower in the summer, what impact could that have on community drinking water, agricultural irrigation, and salmon and steelhead migration?"

Lach said different businesses and agencies all have their own concerns and priorities related to climate variability, "whether it might be urban growth, wildfire risk or land use."

"The Pacific Northwest RISA includes an extension climate specialist in order to build networks and connections necessary for developing usable climate information for different stakeholders," Lach pointed out.

The funding for the consortium will begin in this fall, enabling the hiring of a full-time climate extension specialist who will work in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The consortium also will add at least two post-doctoral researchers to work with faculty at the three participating universities.

Funding for the consortium may be renewable after five years, Mote said.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694