Stream Temperature Monitoring and Modeling in the Pacific Northwest
Research on thermal freshwater habitats is critical to the recovery of protected species like salmon and green sturgeon.
Water temperatures have a large impact on the productivity and diversity of freshwater ecosystems. Anadromous species like Pacific salmon, green sturgeon, and lamprey require cool fresh waters throughout their life cycles. We seek to understand and predict how water temperature varies over time and across various landscapes. We use this information to help conserve and protect these vital thermal habitats.
Information about thermal habitats is becoming increasingly important. We expect climate change to bring warmer, drier summers to the Pacific Northwest. We predict air temperatures will continue to warm, less winter precipitation will accumulate as snow and extreme events (e.g., droughts, floods) increase. These warmer stream temperatures and climate impacts will challenge the recovery of protected species such as Pacific salmon.
What We Do
- Our projects employ various techniques to study and predict water temperatures and consider how changes in thermal regimes may affect protected species, most notably Pacific salmonids.
- We monitor stream temperature in several case-study watersheds.
- We use statistical and physical-based models to understand what causes stream temperature patterns and predict temperatures in unsampled locations and at unsampled times.
- We model the potential effects of restoration actions on stream temperature and evaluate which types of restoration may be most beneficial for aquatic species.
We aim to answer:
- What are spatiotemporal patterns of stream temperature in Pacific Northwest rivers?
- What are the ecological consequences of thermal variability? When and where is stream temperature sufficient to meet the needs of Pacific salmon during critical freshwater life stages?
- How will climate change and human activities alter thermal landscapes and affect stream biota, especially Pacific salmon and their prey, competitors, and predators?
- How does food availability modify the energetic costs of warming thermal regimes for Pacific salmon?
- What can we do to conserve or enhance functional thermal and food-rich habitats? Specifically, when, where, and what types of management interventions are necessary to ensure functioning habitats into the future?
Stream Temperature Monitoring
We monitor stream temperature and factors like food availability that influence how fish perceive stream temperature. We provide empirical data to analyze how stream temperature affects salmon and other biotas.
Temperature data loggers
We maintain sensor networks in the Snoqualmie (Puget Sound), Wenatchee (Columbia), Elwha (Strait of Juan de Fuca), Salmon (Snake), and other watersheds in collaboration with our federal, state, local, and tribal government and non-government organizational partners. We contributed data to an update of the Norwest project database.
We collected years of water temperature data as part of the discontinued CHaMP project that provided standardized fish habitat monitoring (including stream temperature) in watersheds across the Columbia River basin, including Asotin, Entiat John Day, Lemhi, Lolo Creek, Methow, Minam, SF Salmon, Tucannon, Umatilla, Upper Grande Ronde, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yankee Fork Salmon. All data are available to researchers by request here.
Since 1998, we have collected water quality data at 16 locations in the Salmon River basin that are associated with the BPA-funded project, "Monitoring the Migrations of Wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Salmon Smolts." We use these data to correlate water quality parameters to the movements and survival of wild spring/summer Chinook salmon parr within their rearing areas. All data are available to researchers by request here.
Publicly available data collected at sites throughout the Pacific Northwest by our partners, including other federal, state, and local governments, tribes, and non-governmental organizations, inform our analyses.
Thermal infrared surveys
Remotely sensed surveys exist for thousands of stream kilometers throughout the Pacific Northwest. These surveys were individually funded and collected by different organizations. We have analyzed spatial patterns of river temperature across (Fullerton et al., 2015) and within rivers (Fullerton et al., 2018; Mejia et al., 2020). These data are beneficial for evaluating the presence of fine-scale coldwater patches (referred to as thermal refuges if fish use these habitats).
Food availability and temperature interact to determine energetic costs for fish. We measure food abundance, composition, and nutrient content in streams (i.e., stream drift) and near-shore ecosystems. We investigate factors (e.g., spawning salmon, riparian vegetation) affecting food production. Doing so allows us to address our lack of understanding regarding the natural variability in food availability for salmonids and processes contributing to this variation. The combination of food abundance and thermal regime data can highlight potential bioenergetic bottlenecks. Information about environmental factors limiting food production can help identify possible restoration actions to increase food production.
Stream Temperature Modeling
We use various modeling techniques to (a) understand stream temperature controls and (b) predict stream temperature over time and across space. This information directly informs analyses about species viability and recovery options such as restoration of processes that promote or create cool habitats.
Covariate-based regression models - We create linear or nonlinear regression models by fitting empirical water temperature data to covariates that correlate with water temperature (e.g., air temperature, elevation, discharge, vegetation cover). Incorporating spatially structured covariates such as remotely sensed land surface temperature and covariates' interactions can represent mechanical processes and spatiotemporal complexities. We are currently working on a new modeling effort of this type to produce high resolution (daily for each reach) predictions of water temperature across the Pacific Northwest, based on earlier work by McNyset et al. (2015) and Siegel and Volk (2019). Model code, methods and data are available.
Spatial stream network models - We create geostatistical regression models by fitting empirical water temperature data to covariates expected to correlate with stream temperature. We model spatial covariance (i.e., autocorrelation) by harnessing information about stream networks' branching structure, connectivity between sites, streamflow volume, and directionality of flow, as well as discontinuities that can occur near tributary confluences. A well-known example of these models is the Norwest project. Examples from our work include Marsha et al. (2018), Steel et al. (2019), Hawkins et al. (2020), and Marsha et al. (2021).
Models for mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers - We base our nonlinear statistical models on physical processes that incorporate relationships between water temperature and measured variables such as air temperature, flow, solar radiation, snowmelt, and cold water releases from storage reservoirs. More recent model versions account for process and observation uncertainty over time. These models predict daily mean temperatures in the system of reservoirs and dams on the mainstem Snake and Columbia Rivers. We then use the model predictions in dam management and climate change scenarios in conjunction with the Comprehensive Passage (COMPASS) model for fish passage and survival. An example of an earlier implementation of these models appears in Widener (2020), and further publication of this work is in progress.
DHSVM-RBM (Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model - River Basin Model) - We calibrate the process-based model with empirical streamflow and water temperature data and use it to calculate water, energy, and heat budgets to simulate streamflow and water temperature across a stream network at high temporal frequency. This model can be used to predict future conditions and explore potential outcomes under climate or management scenarios. Examples from our work include Lee et al. (2020), Yan et al. (2021 in press), and Fullerton et al. (in review).
Shade-temperature model - We developed a statistical shade-temperature model to estimate stream temperature change with tree planting and growth by reach in the Chehalis River basin. This model has been used to estimate stream temperature under natural potential shade conditions (Seixas et al. 2018, Jorgensen et al. in review) and estimate future temperature with climate change and various restoration scenarios (Fogel et al. in review). Data and publication links can be found here.
We have undertaken several projects that relate fish vitality and viability to stream temperature and food availability. Here are some of our select publications:
Thermal habitats: Armstrong et al. (2021); Marsha et al. (2021); Gosselin et al. (2020); Mejia et al. (2020); Fullerton et al. (2018)
Vulnerability: Crozier et al. (2019); Lee et al. (2020)
Life-stage models: Achord et al. (2007); Crozier et al. (2010); Crozier et al 2021b; Crozier et al 2020; Faulkner et al. (2020); Fullerton et al. (in review); Gosselin et al. (2018); Hawkins et al. (2020); Liermann et al. (2017); Siegel et al (2021); Steel et al. (2012); Zabel et al. (2014); Zabel et al. (2008)
Life cycle models: Beechie et al. (in review); Crozier et al. (2021a); Fogel et al. (in review); Jorgensen et al. (in review)
Climate and/or management scenarios: Crozier et al. (2020); Faulkner et al. (2020); Fogel et al. (in review); Fullerton et al. (in review); Jorgensen et al. (in review)
Food availability: Kinney and Roni (2007); Cram et al. (2011); Kiffney et al. (2014); Naman et al. (2018); Fogel et al. (in review); Morevak et al. (2020)
We contributed to a stream temperature handbook developed to provide an overview of available types of data and models and guide users about selecting the appropriate type(s) of stream temperature information best suited to answering a particular question.
We collaborate with partners on water temperature-related issues. One example of a successful partnership is the Snoqualmie Science Coordination and Advisory Team.
We consult with partners to share our knowledge about monitoring, modeling, and thermal habitats as needed.
We engage on water temperature issues with many partners, including the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Bonneville Power Administration, Chelan County, Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, King County, Lower Elwha Tribe, National Park Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Skagit System Cooperative, Snohomish County, Snoqualmie Tribe, Tulalip Tribes, University of Idaho, University of Washington, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other municipal and non-governmental organizations.
See images associated with stream temperature monitoring and modeling in the Pacific Northwest in the photo gallery.
Publications and Products
Beechie, T., C. Nicol, C. Fogel, B. Timpane-Padgham. A process-based assessment of landscape change and salmon habitat losses in the Chehalis River basin, USA. PLoS ONE.
Fogel, C., C. Nicol, J. Jorgensen, G. Seixas, T. Beechie, B. Timpane-Padgham, P. Kiffney, and J. Winkowski. How riparian and floodplain restoration modifies the effects of increasing temperature on adult salmon spawner abundance in the Chehalis River, WA. PLoS ONE.
Fullerton, A. H., N. Sun, M. J. Baerwalde, B. L. Hawkins, and H. Yan. Mechanistic simulations suggest riparian restoration can partly counteract climate impacts to juvenile salmon. JAWRA.
Jorgensen, J., T. Beechie, C. Nicol, and C. Fogel. Quantifying the potential of salmon habitat restoration with life-cycle models. PLoS ONE.
Siegel, J.E., L.G. Crozier, L.E. Weisbron, and D.L. Widener. Environmentally triggered shifts in steelhead migration behavior and consequences for survival in the mid-Columbia River. PLoS One.
Armstrong, J. B., A. H. Fullerton, C. E. Jordan, J. L. Ebersole, J. R. Bellmore, I. Arismendi, B. Penaluna, and G. H. Reeves. 2021. The significance of warm habitat to the growth regime of coldwater fishes. Nature Climate Change. https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-00994-y.
Crozier, L. C., B. J. Burke, B. E. Chasco, D. L. Widener, and R. W. Zabel. 2021a. Climate change threatens Chinook salmon throughout their life cycle. Communications Biology 4(22). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01734-w.
Marsha, A. L., E. A. Steel, and A. H. Fullerton. 2021. Modeling thermal metrics to aid fish management. Freshwater Science 40. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713038.
Yan, H., N. Sun, A. H. Fullerton, and M. Baerwalde. 2021, in press. Greater vulnerability of snowmelt-fed river thermal regimes to a warming climate. Environmental Research Letters.
Crozier, L. G., J. Siegel, L. E. Wiesebron, E. Dorfmeier, B. J. Burke, B. P. Sandford, and D. L. Widener. 2020. Snake River sockeye and Chinook salmon in a changing climate: implications for upstream migration survival during recent extreme and future climates. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238886.
Faulkner, J. R., D. Widener, and R. W. Zabel. 2020. The COMPASS model for assessing juvenile salmon passage through the hydropower systems on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Pages 9–15 in R. W. Zabel and C. E. Jordan, editors. 2020. Life cycle models of interior Columbia River Basin spring/summer-run Chinook salmon populations. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-156.
Gosselin, J. L. G. Crozier, and B. J. Burke. 2020. Shifting signals: correlations among freshwater, marine and climatic indices often investigated in Pacific salmon studies. Ecological Indicators: 121:107167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2020.107167.
Hawkins, B. L., A. H. Fullerton, B. L. Sanderson, and E. A. Steel. 2020. Individual-based simulations suggest mixed impacts of warmer temperatures and a nonnative predator on Chinook salmon. Ecosphere 11:e03218. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3218.
Lee, S.-Y., A. H. Fullerton, N. Sun, and C. E. Torgersen. 2020. Projecting spatiotemporally explicit effects of climate change on stream temperature: A model comparison and implications for coldwater fishes. Journal of Hydrology 588: 125066. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.125066.
Mejia, F. H., C. E. Torgersen, E. K. Berntsen, J. R. Maroney, J. M. Connor, A. H. Fullerton, J. L. Ebersole, and M. S. Lorang. 2020. Longitudinal, lateral, vertical, and temporal thermal heterogeneity in a large impounded river: implications for cold-water refuges. Remote Sensing 12:1386. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs12091386.
Moravek, J., H. Clipp, T. Good, and P. Kiffney. 2020. Assessing the effects of channel gradient and small, seasonal inputs of adult Pacific salmon on aquatic and riparian assemblages. Freshwater Science. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/712605.
Widener, D.L. 2020. Appendix A: the COMPASS stream temperature model at Lower Granite dam. Pages 136–143 in R. W. Zabel and C. E. Jordan, editors. 2020. Life cycle models of interior Columbia River Basin spring/summer-run Chinook salmon populations. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-156.
Crozier, L. G., M. M. McClure, T. Beechie, S. J. Bograd, D. A. Boughton, M. Carr, T. D. Cooney, J. B. Dunham, C. M. Greene, M. A. Haltuch, E. L. Hazen, D. M. Holzer, D. D. Huff, R. C. Johnson, C. E. Jordan, I. C. Kaplan, S. T. Lindley, N. J. Mantua, P. B. Moyle, J. M. Myers, M. W. Nelson, B. C. Spence, L. A. Weitkamp, T. H. Williams, and E. Willis-Norton. 2019. Climate vulnerability assessment for Pacific salmon and steelhead in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. PLoS ONE 14:e0217711. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217711.
Siegel, J. E., and C. J. Volk. 2019. Accurate spatiotemporal predictions of daily stream temperature from statistical models accounting for interactions between climate and landscape. PeerJ 7:e7892. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.7892.
Steel, E. A., A. Marsha, A. H. Fullerton, J. D. Olden, N. K. Larkin, S.-Y. Lee, and A. Ferguson. 2019. Thermal landscapes in a changing climate: biological implications of water temperature patterns in an extreme year. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 76:1740-1756. https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2018-0244.
Fullerton, A. H., C. E. Torgersen, J. J. Lawler, E. A. Steel, J. L. Ebersole, and S. Y. Lee. 2018. Longitudinal thermal heterogeneity in rivers and refugia for coldwater species: effects of scale and climate change. Aquatic Sciences 80:1-15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00027-017-0557-9.
Gosselin, J. L., R. W. Zabel, J. J. Anderson, J. R. Faulkner, A. M. Baptista, and B. P. Sandford. 2018. Conservation planning for freshwater-marine carryover effects on Chinook salmon survival. Ecology and Evolution 8:319-332. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3663.
Marsha, A., E. A. Steel, A. H. Fullerton, and C. Sowder. 2018. Monitoring riverine thermal regimes on stream networks: Insights into spatial sampling designs from the Snoqualmie River, WA. Ecological Indicators 84:11-26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.08.028.
Naman, S. M., J. S. Rosenfeld, P. M. Kiffney and J. S. Richardson. 2018. Terrestrial resource subsidies mediate nonlinear effects of habitat heterogeneity on stream-rearing Pacific salmon production. Journal of Animal Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12845.
Seixas, G.B., Beechie, T.J., Fogel, C., Kiffney, P.M., 2018. Historical and future stream temperature change predicted by a Lidar-based assessment of riparian condition and channel width. J. American Water Resources Association 54: 974–991. https://doi.org/10.1111/1752-1688.12655.
Fullerton, A. H., B. J. Burke, J. J. Lawler, C. E. Torgersen, J. L. Ebersole, and S. G. Leibowitz. 2017. Simulated juvenile salmon growth and phenology respond to altered thermal regimes and stream network shape. Ecosphere 8:e02052. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2052.
Liermann, M., G. Pess, M. McHenry, J. McMillan, M. Elofson, T. Bennett, and R. Moses. 2017. Relocation and recolonization of Coho Salmon in two tributaries to the Elwha River: implications for management and monitoring. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 146(5):955-966. https://doi.org/10.1080/00028487.2017.1317664.
Steel, E. A., T. J. Beechie, C. E. Torgersen, and A. H. Fullerton. 2017. Envisioning, quantifying, and managing thermal regimes on river networks. Bioscience 67:506-522. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix047.
Bærum, K. M., L. A. Vøllestad, P. M. Kiffney, Alice Rémy, and T. O. Haugen. 2016. Population-level variation in juvenile brown trout growth from different climatic regions of Norway to an experimental thermal gradient. Ecology of Freshwater Fish. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-016-0533-6.
Fullerton, A. H., C. E. Torgersen, J. J. Lawler, R. N. Faux, E. A. Steel, T. J. Beechie, J. L. Ebersole, and S. G. Leibowitz. 2015. Rethinking the longitudinal stream temperature paradigm: region-wide comparison of thermal infrared imagery reveals unexpected complexity of river temperatures. Hydrological Processes 29:4719-4737. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.10506.
McNyset, K., C. Volk, and C. Jordan. 2015. Developing an effective model for predicting spatially and temporally continuous stream temperatures from remotely sensed land surface temperatures. Water 7:6827-6846. https://doi.org/10.3390/w7126660.
Achord, S., R. W. Zabel, and B. P. Sandford. 2007. Migration timing, growth, and estimated parr-to-smolt survival rates of wild Snake River spring-summer Chinook salmon from the Salmon River Basin, Idaho, to the lower Snake River. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 136:142-154. https://doi.org/10.1577/T05-308.1.
Bærum, KHaugen, P. Kiffney, E. Oslen, and A. Vøllestad. 2013. Interacting effects of temperature and population density on individual growth in a wild population of brown trout. Freshwater Biology 56: 1329-1339. https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.12130.
Cram. J., P. Kiffney, R. Klett, and R. Edmonds. 2011. Do fall additions of salmon carcasses increase abundance and biomass of periphyton, invertebrates, and fishes in experimental streams? Hydrobiologia 675: 197-209. 10.1007/s10750-011-0819-9.
Crozier, L. G., R. W. Zabel, E. E. Hockersmith, and S. Achord. 2010. Interacting effects of density and temperature on body size in multiple populations of Chinook salmon. Journal of Animal Ecology 79:342-349. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2656.2009.01641.x.
Kiffney, P. M. and P. Roni. 2007. Relationships between productivity, physical habitat and invertebrate and vertebrate populations of forest steams: an information-theoretic approach. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 136: 1088-1103. https://doi.org/10.1577/T06-234.1.
Kiffney, P. S.,Buhle, S. Naman, G. Pess, and R. Klett. 2014. Linking resource availability, habitat structure and local density to stream organisms: An experimental and observational assessment. Ecosphere 5:art39. https://doi.org/10.1890/ES13-00269.1.
Steel, E. A., A. Tillotson, D. A. Larsen, A. H. Fullerton, K. P. Denton, and B. R. Beckman. 2012. Beyond the mean: The role of variability in predicting ecological effects of stream temperature on salmon. Ecosphere 3:art104. https://doi.org/10.1890/ES12-00255.1.
Zabel, R. W., B. J. Burke, M. L. Moser, and C. C. Caudill. 2014. Modeling temporal phenomena in variable environments with parametric models: an application to migrating salmon. Ecological Modelling 273:23-30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2013.10.020.
Zabel, R. W., J. R. Faulkner, S. G. Smith, J. J. Anderson,Van Holmes, N. Beer, S. Iltis, J. Krinke, G. Fredricks, B. Bellerud, J. Sweet, and A. Giorgi. 2008. Comprehensive passage (COMPASS) model: a model of downstream migration and survival of juvenile salmonids through a hydropower system. Hydrobiologia 609:289-300. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-008-9407-z.