Physical environment

Map image of Puget Sound and surroundings. Courtesy of USGS.

OVERVIEW

Puget Sound's physical environment

The Puget Sound ecosystem is shaped by its physical environment. This article looks at Puget Sound's geologic history as well as dynamic factors such as the flow of its rivers and currents.

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The University of Washington Tacoma has spurred sustainable urban development including re-purposing of historic buildings, new housing, a museum and retail district, multi-use trails, and light rail transit. Photo courtesy: UW Tacoma
5/2/2017

Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem

The state of Washington estimates that the Puget Sound area will grow by more than 1.5 million residents within the next two decades. That is expected to have profound effects on the environment as more and more people move to undeveloped areas. The race is on to protect this critical rural habitat, but planners say what happens in the cities may be just as important.

Former feeder bluff with sediment impounded by armoring. Photo by Hugh Shipman.
12/5/2016

Shoreline Armoring in an inland sea: Science-based recommendations for policy implementation

A 2016 article in the journal Conservation Letters makes policy recommendations to address shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea.

Before and after composite view at the site of a 2013 bulkhead-removal project on the shore of Penrose Point State Park in Pierce County. Composite: Kris Symer, PSI; original photos: Kristin Williamson, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group
10/17/2016

Hitting a wall: Can we fix Puget Sound’s beaches?

New numbers show progress in the state’s efforts to remove shoreline armoring, but they don’t tell the whole story.

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwifc/9517621153
8/31/2016

Clam hunger

Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.

Due to the 'Red Tide' misnomer, blooms of red-colored algae, like this Noctiluca sp. (a dinoflagellate) seen here in Eastsound, Washington (July 2016), can cause undue public concern about harmful algal blooms. Photo: Jordan Cole
7/26/2016

Harmful algal blooms in the Salish Sea

Formerly known as “Red Tide”, harmful algal blooms are a health concern for both wildlife and humans. The following is a brief review of some of these algae and their effects.

Monitoring devices deployed by NOAA for detecting harmful algal blooms. Photo by Rachael Mueller.
7/12/2016

Salish Sea snapshots: Detecting harmful algal blooms

Environmental samplers may provide early detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Puget Sound. This toxic algae is expected to increase as the climate changes, bringing with it new and potentially more severe outbreaks of shellfish poisonings. 

Studies suggest that western sandpipers depend on biofilm for close to 60% of their diet. Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, BC. Photo:  Nicole Beaulac (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolebeaulac/26579296150
6/1/2016

Salish Sea 'slime' vital for shorebirds

It turns out that a gooey substance known as biofilm is a big deal for Salish Sea shorebirds, providing critical food for some species. But could a proposed port expansion in Vancouver threaten this slimy resource?

Phytoplankton collected in a jar carry toxic chemicals they picked up from Puget Sound. Photo: WDFW
5/17/2016

Suspended marine pollutants more likely to enter food web

Researchers are studying how persistent pollutants such as PCBs avoid settling to the bottom of Puget Sound. This article continues our coverage of new theories on the spread of toxic chemicals in the food web. 

Bulkhead in Puget Sound. Photo by Christopher Dunagan
4/15/2016

Conference snapshot: Lengthy study looks at impacts of shoreline armoring

A new peer-reviewed study reports significant findings on the impacts of shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea. 

Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines (MSDG) report cover
4/7/2016

State guidelines offer new approaches to shoreline protection

Bulkhead removal is becoming an attractive option for many shoreline property owners as awareness spreads of their geological and ecological impacts, and as aging bulkheads come up for replacement. New state guidelines provide alternatives to hard armor.

Feeder bluff and beach at Fort Flagler Historical State Park. Marrowstone Island, WA. Photo: Kris Symer (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
4/7/2016

Sources of sand: maps show crucial “feeder bluffs”

For more than a hundred years, property owners have seen shoreline erosion as the enemy. But it turns out that in many cases erosion is actually a good thing — crucial, according to scientists — because it provides the sand and gravel needed for healthy beaches.

Chart: Local shoreline changes in King County (2012-13). Source: King County, 2014
3/29/2016

Studies point to gap in permits for shoreline armoring

A significant number of Puget Sound property owners have been altering their shorelines without required permits. A new report suggests that state and local regulators should increase enforcement and make penalties more costly for violators.

Pat Collier walking along the restored beach in front of her Maury Island home. Photo: Christopher Dunagan/PSI
3/29/2016

Shoreline restoration turns to private property owners

By removing bulkheads where they can, property owners are improving shoreline habitat, one piece at a time. Officials from county and nonprofit groups have been offering assistance and finding new ways to connect with property owners.

Sponsored by: Puget Sound Partnerhsip, WA Sea Grant, WA Ecology, Puget Sound Institute
3/28/2016

Shoreline and Coastal Planners Forum: Shoreline stabilization

Proceedings of the March 31, 2016 WA Shoreline and Coastal Planners Group Spring Forum. Shoreline Stabilization: Using the Permit Process to Protect Shoreline Habitat and Property with a Focus on Single Family Residential Properties

Spawning Surf Smelt. Fidalgo Bay. Photo: Copyright Jon Michael https://www.flickr.com/photos/-jon/5892559865
3/22/2016

Spawning habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides

Where shoreline bulkheads remain in place, the loss of spawning habitat used by surf smelt is likely to reach 80 percent.

Cattle Point Beach, San Juan Island, WA. Photo: Travis S. (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/baggis/8089171175
3/22/2016

Forage fish are losing places to lay their eggs

Rising sea levels are expected to exacerbate habitat loss caused by bulkheads, according to studies in the San Juan Islands.

Storm surges against the bulkheads protecting beach houses at Mutiny Bay, WA. Photo: Scott Smithson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/dtwpuck/15725058917
3/22/2016

Shoreline armoring's effect on the food web

The removal of shoreline armoring in Puget Sound has become a priority for state and federal agencies, but until recently there have been relatively few scientific studies of armoring's local impact. New research looks at the pronounced biological and ecological effects of these common shoreline structures, especially for tiny beach-dwelling creatures that make up the base of the food web.

Dead salmon. Photo: Boris Mann (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/boris/3037705761
2/23/2016

Transfer of nutrients in the ecosystem

Decaying organic matter plays an important role in marine ecosystems. 

Puget Sound. Photo: S.N. Johnson-Roehr (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/snjr22/4095840433
2/18/2016

Water and nutrient circulation in Puget Sound

Complex physical processes such as hydrology, nutrient cycling, and sediment transport are linked to water circulation patterns in Puget Sound. 

Ballard Locks from the air. Photo: Jeff Wilcox (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/4805933588
2/18/2016

Will Ballard Locks withstand a major earthquake?

For close to 100 years, Seattle's Ballard Locks has been one of the region's busiest waterways, drawing major boat traffic along with millions of tourists. But as it prepares to celebrate its centennial, the aged structure is also drawing the concern of engineers. They worry that an earthquake could cause the locks to fail, draining massive amounts of water from Lake Washington and Lake Union. In some scenarios, the two lakes could drop by as much as 20 feet, stranding boats, disabling bridges and causing big problems for salmon restoration.

Returning sockeye salmon packed gill-to-gill in the viewing windows at the Ballard Locks fish ladder. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/7511895940
2/18/2016

Salmon live in a topsy-turvy world upstream of the Ballard Locks

Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, along with steelhead trout, live in the Lake Washington watershed and navigate a treacherous route through the Ballard Locks on their way to Puget Sound.

Waves crashing on the Puget Sound Photo: MikeySkatie (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeyskatie/5473869676
2/17/2016

Climate and ocean processes

This overview discusses the processes that control ocean and climate characteristics. Topics include atmospheric forcing, precipitation patterns, oscillation trends, coastal upwelling, and climate change.

Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA). Map: Kris Symer. Data source: WAECY.
2/15/2016

Geographic boundaries of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea

The boundaries of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are not always consistently defined by scientists and government agencies. This article clarifies the distinctions between oceanographic and watershed-based definitions of these geographic areas. 

The Puyallup River outside Orting, WA. Photo: Lindley Ashline (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/91625873@N04/22035924720
2/12/2016

Land cover conversion and ecosystem decline

Land cover conversion through human development was listed as a leading cause of ecosystem decline in the 2014 Puget Sound Pressures Assessment, a document supported by the Environmental Protection Agency and prepared by more than 60 of the region's scientists. 

A graph shows an increase in published papers related to anthropogenic noise
2/11/2016

Impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life: Publication patterns, new discoveries, and future directions in research and management

A 2015 review in Ocean & Coastal Management looks at trends in research related to anthropogenic noise and its affect on a wide variety of marine organisms, from whales and fish to invertebrates. The review includes case studies from the Salish Sea. 

Birch Bay. Photo by Jeff Rice
12/21/2015

Birch Bay characterization and watershed planning pilot – taking action

A 2015 report from the Whatcom Conservation District and Whatcom County describes a pilot watershed characterization study focusing on the Terrell Creek and Birch Bay areas. The report and related appendices are available for download. 

report cover: Analysis of  Effective Regulation and Stewardship Findings
12/17/2015

A review of Puget Sound marine and nearshore grant program results, Part 1

A 2015 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 14 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program.

Report cover for State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound
11/16/2015

State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound

A 2015 report from the University of Washington provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the expected impacts of climate change on the Puget Sound region.

2015 Puget Sound Fact Book report cover
10/2/2015

2015 Puget Sound Fact Book

The 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book brings together statistics and other information about the health and makeup of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Areas of focus include climate change, geography, water quality, habitats, human dimensions and regional species. The fact book was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Puget Sound portion of a 1798 chart showing "part of the coast of N.W. America : with the tracks of His Majesty's sloop Discovery and armed tender Chatham / commanded by George Vancouver, Esqr. and prepared under his immediate inspection by Lieut. Joseph Baker." Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
9/18/2015

Puget Sound: a uniquely diverse and productive estuary

Puget Sound is the second largest estuary in the United States. Today, we understand that estuaries—where freshwater and saltwater merge—are among the most productive places for life to exist.

2014 state of salmon in watersheds report cover
9/13/2015

2014 state of salmon in watersheds executive summary

This report documents how Washingtonians have responded to the challenges of protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead to healthy status. It also serves as a tool to summarize achievements, track salmon recovery progress through common indicators, and identify data gaps that need to be filled.

8/6/2015

The temperature and salinity characteristics of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca based on the M. V. CATALYST observations of 1932 to 1942

A 1956 thesis submitted in partial fulfillment ot the requirement for degree of Master of Science, University of Washington

Chemistry of Puget Sound waters report cover
8/6/2015

Chemistry of Puget Sound waters and influencing factors

This 1954 report present the results of a geochemical investigation, based on existing data, of the waters of Puget Sound. Rivers draining into the Puget Sound and upwelled water moving in at depth from Juan de Fuca Strait are the chief sources of the chemical constituents in Puget Sound.

Surface winds over Puget Sound report cover
8/6/2015

The surface winds over Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and their oceanographic effects

This 1954 report accumulates all available wind report summaries have been in the form of monthly wind roses for each reporting station and makes a determination of the frequency and maximum duration of surface winds of above average velocity at selected stations over a three year period. 

Hansen Creek Alluvial Fan and Wetland restoration project (Poster #1)
7/28/2015

Hansen Creek alluvial fan and wetland restoration project

Habitat restoration was undertaken in 2009-2010 on lower Hansen Creek, Washington. The project converted 140 acres of isolated floodplain into 53 acres of alluvial fan and 87 acres of flow-through wetlands.

Figure 31-1. Red circles show the locations of 79 stations sampled during the water properties survey in April, June and September/October (page 147).
7/27/2015

State of the physical, biological and selected fishery resources of Pacific Canadian marine ecosystems in 2014

An annual State of the Pacific Ocean meeting is held to review the physical, biological and selected fishery resources and present the results of the most recent year’s monitoring in the context of previous observations and expected future conditions. The workshop to review conditions during 2014 took place at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney, B.C. on March 10 and 11, 2015, with over 100 participants both in person and via webinar.

2012 State of Salmon in Watersheds Executive Summary report cover
7/21/2015

2012 state of salmon in watersheds executive summary

Salmon recovery demands both dedication among people with different interests, and sustained resources. This biennial report tells the story of the progress made to date and the challenges ahead.

State of the Sound 1988 report cover image
7/20/2015

1988 State of the Sound

The State of the Sound report is prepared every two years by the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority to provide a comprehensive, easily understandable summary of the current conditions of water quality and related resources in Puget Sound.

1992 Puget Sound Update report cover page
7/19/2015

1992 Puget Sound Update

The 1992 Puget Sound Update is the third annual report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP). It reports the results of sampling undertaken in 1991, the most current year for which the data have under gone analysis and quality assurance tests. 

1993 Puget Sound Update report cover page
7/19/2015

1993 Puget Sound Update

The 1993 Puget Sound Updatethe fourth annual report of this programevaluates the data collected by PSAMP in 1992 (the most recent year for which the data have undergone quality assurance review and interpretation) and compares these data to past information on Puget Sound water quality.

Fecal contamination graphic (page 39)
7/18/2015

1994 Puget Sound Update

The 1994 Puget Sound Updatethe fifth annual summary report of this programevaluates the data collected by the PSAMP in 1993 (the most recent year for which the data have undergone quality assurance review and interpretation) and compares these data to past information on Puget Sound.

1998 Puget Sound Update report cover page
7/17/2015

1998 Puget Sound Update

This is the sixth Puget Sound Update, a report for residents of the region about the overall health of Puget Sound. The conclusions in the Update are based mainly on scientific results of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP).

Ecology’s core river and stream monitoring stations in the Puget Sound basin. (page 18)
7/17/2015

2000 Puget Sound Update

This seventh Puget Sound Update is based primarily on the findings of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP). The PSAMP is a long-term effort to investigate environmental trends, improve decision-making and prevent overlaps and duplication in monitoring efforts. The results of the PSAMP are supplemented by the findings of many other efforts to evaluate the condition of Puget Sound’s waters, sediments, nearshore habitats and biological resources.

2002 Puget Sound Update report cover page
7/17/2015

2002 Puget Sound Update

This Puget Sound Update is the eighth report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program (PSAMP) since the program was initiated in 1988 by the State of Washington.

2007 Puget Sound Update report cover page
7/13/2015

2007 Puget Sound Update

The Puget Sound Update is a technical report that integrates results of PSAMP and other scientific activities in Puget Sound focused on marine life and nearshore habitat, marine and freshwater quality, and toxic contamination.

Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines report cover
7/10/2015

Marine shoreline design guidelines

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has published a comprehensive set of guidelines for managing shoreline development such as bulkheads and seawalls.

SSEC logo
7/7/2015

2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

The 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference took place April 30-May 2 at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. Over 1200 delegates attended the conference.

6/7/2015

Dissolved oxygen and hypoxia in Puget Sound

Hypoxia, defined as dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations less than 2 mg / L, has become widespread throughout estuaries and semi-enclosed seas throughout the world (Diaz 2001). 

Book cover for The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest
4/20/2015

New book focuses on the natural history of the Salish Sea

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest brings together more than 230 extraordinary images of the Salish Sea. But don't call it a coffee table book. Its lush photos are backed by a serious scientific perspective on this complex and fragile ecosystem.