Pacific Northwest and Global Warming

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an amazing diversity of coastal habitats, from rocky bluffs and sandy beaches along the Pacific Coast to the tidal flats, marshes, mixed sediment beaches and eelgrass beds of Puget Sound. Together, these habitats support thousands of species of fish and wildlife, and they are a linchpin for the regional economy, culture and quality of life.

Despite its pristine image, however, the region's coastal habitats and the ecological systems they support face serious problems from global warming:

  • Recent studies project that the Pacific Northwest will see a rise in sea level of 20-56 inches by 2100.
  • Among the most vulnerable habitats is estuarine beach, which provides vital spawning areas for forage fish, including surf smelt and sand lance, which in turn provide food for birds, marine mammals, salmon, and other fish and wildlife.
  • More than two-thirds of beaches in the Tacoma area are predicted to be lost by 2100.
  • The Seattle area is built on high land, and so would have limited impact due to sea level rise. However, 741-988 acres of dry land will become marsh or tidal flat. More than half of estuarine beaches in the area will be lost.

The National Wildlife Federation produced a report detailing the impacts of sea-level rise and other stressors on this habitat.

Using the latest scientific data, these maps show which areas will be affected when global warming causes sea level rise. In some cases, sea water will cover the land where it does not today. In other cases, wildlife will be affected either because of changes in the way water flows or salinity levels.

For a general idea of what areas will be affected, view our three-color maps. For a more detailed picture of which types of habitats will change, view our high-color maps.

These are highly simplified maps. If you want to see the how sea-level rise will impact habitats in more detail, please download the full report (pdf).

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