Birds on a coastline
Ron LaValley
Ocean winds drive upwelling and productivity along certain coastlines.

By now we are used to the idea of seasonal weather forecasts — whether to expect an El Niño ski season, or an unusually warm summer. These same types of climate models are now being adapted to make seasonal forecasts for the region’s coastal waters.

Researchers from the University of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have created a seasonal outlook for the Pacific Northwest waters, which would help tell if it’s going to be a great year for sardines or a poor crab season. A paper evaluating the forecast’s performance was published in June in the interdisciplinary, open-access journal Nature: Scientific Reports.

“Ocean forecasting is a growing field, and the Pacific Northwest coast is a particularly good place to use this approach,” said lead author Samantha Siedlecki, a research scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “This paper is doing what the scientific community asks of a new tool, which is assessing how well it performs.”

The tool, called JISAO Seasonal Coastal Ocean Prediction of the Ecosystem, or J-SCOPE, launched in summer 2013. The new paper is the first formal evaluation of how well it works. Analysis of the first three years of forecasts confirms that they do have measurable skill on seasonal timescales.

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