Developing long-term mitigation climate change impacts secures Team Award

Published July 4, 2023
Photo collage of team members.

Photo collage of fellow Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change team members who earned the USACE’s Engineering and Construction Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development. Jason Chang processes data results and runs statistical analysis for the team. He has been with Seattle District since 2018, applying his undergraduate and graduate degrees in rural system engineering, and doctorate in agricultural and biological engineering. Reyn Aoki has been with Seattle District since 2020 supporting real-time water management. As a CRT team member, he handles hydrological modeling and flood risk management studies, applying his undergraduate and graduate studies in chemical engineering and civil engineering respectively. (Photo collage/Jane Harrell)

Image of a graphic showing modeling sequences to support decision making under the effects of climate change.

Schematic showing modeling sequences that can be used to support decision making under the effects of climate change. Coarse Global Climate Model (GCM) projections are downscaled and then run through hydrology and impact modeling to produce an ensemble of high-resolution hydro-regulated streamflow conditions. The ensemble composite is used to identify the frequency of negative impacts under current operations and informs adaptive management planning. This can be repeated and compared for multiple operational scenarios to assess how operations could be altered to maintain or decrease the frequency of negative impacts. (Courtesy Jane Harrell/USACE)

Photo of Caucasian woman wearing a plum blouse and black blazer smiling at the camera.

Jane Harrell, civil engineer with Seattle District and team lead. Harrell holds a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences, and a master’s in civil engineering. Harrell said she pursued civil engineering to study climate change impacts on Pacific Northwest water resources. “When I began at Seattle District in 2019, I was fortunate to join this team where I have done just that. It’s exciting to work with motivated teammates eager to tackle big problems and generate novel ideas for planning and preparing for climate change.” (Photo courtesy Jane Harrell)

Photo of Caucasian man wearing a hard hat and safety vest taking a selfie with mountains in the background.

Kristian Mickelson has been with Seattle District since 2009. As Columbia River Treaty Hydrology and Hydraulics Technical Lead, Mickelson oversees the technical H&H teams working on the treaty. Mickelson holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering from Oregon State University and the University of Washington, respectively. (Photo courtesy Kristian Mickelson)

Photo of Caucasian man wearing a blue checkered long sleeved shirt and navy blue tie, smiling for the camera.

Dr. Ethan Gutmann, project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has worked with the USACE climate preparedness and resilience program for 10 years. He has developed a model that simulates local atmospheric conditions 100 times faster than a traditional atmospheric model, enabling for the first time, a physically based simulation of thousands of years of weather, at high enough spatial resolutions, to resolve mountains, coastlines and other aspects of local hydrometeorology. (Photo courtesy Dr. Ethan Gutmann)

Photo of Caucasian man with long silver hair wearing glasses.

Photo of Jeff Arnold with the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit that serves the public interest as an independent adviser, by applying a systems-thinking approach to provide solutions that enhance national security and way of life. (Photo courtesy Jane Harrell on behalf of Jeff Arnold)

Photo of Caucasian man standing with mountains in the background.

Photo of Dr. Andrew Wood with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Dr. Wood has developed the key hydrologic modeling workflows and SUMMA applications for USACE applications in the Pacific Northwest. (Photo courtesy Dr. Ethan Gutmann)

Nothing screams Team of Teams or Innovation louder than earning one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Construction Community of Practice’s (ECCoP) highest accolades.

The Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change Team received the ECCoP Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development.

Integrating climate change into long-term planning studies has been a Northwestern Division, Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla Districts, and their partners’ priority for over 15 years.  

The team’s awarding-winning work includes supporting the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), currently in active negotiations with Canada on future basin water management.

The team incorporated modeling results, from the latest River Management Joint Operating Committee (RMJOC) planning studies, into their future climate vulnerability assessment of the Columbia River Reservoir System operations. The team also supported adaptive management planning to build resilience against hydroclimatic and future hydrologic Columbia River Basin change.

“The national recognition is an honor,” said Seattle District civil engineer and team lead Jane Harrell. “I hope exposure of this team’s work promotes and fosters innovation in how we plan and prepare for the effects of climate change.”

Harrell specializes in dataset and data analysis tool development to support climate change-impacted hydrology and resource assessments for the Pacific Northwest.

Fellow team awardees include Hydraulic Engineers Jason Chang and Reyn Aoki (both with Seattle District), Jeff Arnold (MITRE Corporation), and Chris Frans with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).  

Seattle District’s Meteorologist Michael Warner provides atmospheric science and climate science support to studies involving the Columbia River Basin and the treaty. Warner, who holds a doctorate in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, gives real-time weather forecasting for the district’s water management and emergency management hydrologists.

A sustaining team element is its members’ diverse backgrounds – in engineering, atmospheric sciences, climate science, hydrology, and reservoir operations – that have led to unique opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and various academic and research institutions to evaluate the effects of climate change in the Columbia River Basin.

“It's a privilege to work with this team and I feel honored to be part of it, said Jeremy Giovando, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL).

Giovando, who has been a CRT/RMJOC climate change team member since 2009, applies his background in environmental and civil engineering into researching various civil works issues including climate change impacts on hydrology, post-wildfire hydrology, snowpack, and river ice mechanics.

“I think the award represents the power of a high-functioning team and has provided a template for how to directly include climate change impacts for USACE project,” said Giovando.

Another instance is collaborating with Bonneville Power Administration and the USBR, leading studies to develop an ensemble of historical and hydrological projections and to examine Columbia River Reservoir System’s climate change resiliency.

Kristian Mickelson, Seattle District’s Columbia River Treaty Hydrology & Hydraulics technical lead, has also been involved since 2009. “I felt really lucky back then being able to use data I helped develop at the University of Washington, and then apply it here at the Corps of Engineers,” said Mickelson.

“Through the years, this team continues to push the science forward to best prepare the region for understanding the impacts that will be caused from climate change.”

Additionally, partnering with the National Center for Atmospheric Research led to the team develop datasets using the latest modeling advancements, and climate knowledge to produce credible meteorological and hydrological conditions and responses of water resource systems.

The datasets enable the team to create a strong uncertainty depiction and risk to managing and planning water PNW region water resources.

“It feels good to be a part of meaningful and interesting work such as this.” said Portland District Water Resources Civil Engineer Keith Duffy, who works on river hydraulic modeling, rainfall runoff computing, reservoir and climate change assessment and data analyses projects. His climate change assessment planning studies date back to 2010.

The combination of diverse expertise, strong connections to the research community and long collaborative effort history makes conditions ideal for essential advancements in how USACE develops datasets and modeling tools toward relevant and reliable applications for decision-making frameworks and uses climate change information to support long-term planning for regional water management.

USACE’s Institute for Water Resources Hydrologic Engineering Center (IWR-HEC) Civil Engineer Evan Heisman, applauded his fellow awardees for continuing to push the boundaries of what can be done with projecting reservoir operations under climate change, and for their proactive approach in understanding how climate change impacts USACE’s mission managing flood risk, hydropower, ecosystems, navigation, and other reservoir system impacts across the Nation. 

From developing decision-support tools to anticipate potential hydroclimatic change to planning for increased resilience for water resource infrastructure, the Climate Champion Team's efforts help advance understanding of and preparation for future climate change in the Pacific Northwest. 

Every year in June, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Awards Program recognizes employees’ and teams' contributions of excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and community support in its engineering and construction career fields.

The ‘Team of Teams’ mindset is embedded into Seattle District’s strategic vision to deliver strong to the Pacific Northwest. Normalizing what currently seems revolutionary and shaping the USACE  future through a culture of continual process improvement, modernization and innovation, are key elements in the district’s operational plan.