Year in review: 2016

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

This year has been as busy as any we have had since our founding in 2010. As we look forward to year seven (!) of our organization, we have put together a sort of highlight reel of accomplishments.

At various points, PSI scientists worked to prioritize emerging contaminants in our waterways. We studied the health of forage fish populations, analyzed eelgrass abundance and brought together key scientific findings for Puget Sound’s marine and nearshore. 

Most recently, our team began helping to develop new state and federal Implementation Strategies that will prioritize future Puget Sound cleanup efforts (you can read more about the Implementation Strategies in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound).

Through it all, we have kept you informed with dozens of articles in our magazine Salish Sea Currents, as well as many new papers in scientific journals. After a strong 2016, we believe that science is more vital than ever to Puget Sound recovery. We look forward to building on our accomplishments in 2017.

View some of PSI’s research and products.


Implementation strategies will target Puget Sound ‘Vital Signs’

Implementation strategies are a framework to improve the heartbeat of Puget Sound

Implementation strategies are a framework to improve the heartbeat of Puget Sound

When a scientist wades into an eelgrass bed or measures the weight of a Chinook salmon, their connection to the environment is clear. Much of what we know as the ‘scientific process’ takes place on the ground at a local scale. Measurements and observations are made and extrapolated. Scientists get their feet wet.

But what do you do when you are studying an entire ecosystem? In the case of Puget Sound, you can’t wade — or even see – the whole thing. To some degree, such a large system is an abstraction. It is infinitely complex and unknowable, with thousands of species and countless other variables.

Here at the Puget Sound Institute, our scientists conduct plenty of on-the-ground research, but we also look at this big picture. In the fall of 2016 our team began working closely with other scientists funded by the EPA to establish what are known as Implementation Strategies. These strategies will identify and apply solutions to improve Puget Sound’s overall Vital Signs, a series of indicators established by the Puget Sound Partnership to measure the region’s health.

It is part of a “learn and adjust” approach known as adaptive management (read more about adaptive management on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound). Adaptive management is gaining traction for ecosystem conservation worldwide and has played a central role in state and federal Puget Sound cleanup efforts since 2007.

PSI’s role will help to synthesize and analyze the state of the science for many of the Vital Sign indicators, and will provide recommendations for science-based solutions aimed at improving them. Watch for stories about the process in our Salish Sea Currents series in the coming weeks and months.


New funding for Salish Sea herring research

Rhinocerus auklet with sand lance by Phil Green/The Nature Conservancy

Rhinoceros auklet with sand lance by Phil Green/The Nature Conservancy. Photo courtesy of SeaDoc.

PSI’s Tessa Francis is co-leader of a joint US and Canadian team that has received funding to analyze threats to Pacific Herring in the Salish Sea. Funding of just over $89,000 was granted by the SeaDoc Society and will help the group develop a comprehensive Salish Sea herring conservation and management plan.

Francis teams up with project co-leader Dayv Lowry of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Additional collaborators include USGS, NOAA, Oregon State University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Lummi Tribe, the Cowichan Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, and Q’ul-lhanumutsun Aquatic Resources Society.

Read more about the project at SeaDoc’s website. 


A comparative study of human well-being indicators across three Puget Sound regions

Puget Sound Institute social scientist Kelly Biedenweg has published a comparative study of three well-being indicators in the Puget Sound region. The article appears in the August issue of the journal Society & Natural Resources.


Simple frameworks that generalize the best metrics of human well- being related to the natural environment have rarely been empirically tested for their representativeness across diverse regions. This study tested the hypothesis that metrics of human well-being related to environmental change are context specific by identifying priority human well-being indicators in distinct regions. The research team interviewed 61 experts and held 8 stakeholder workshops across 3 regions to identify and prioritize locally relevant indicators. Results from the three regions were compared to determine the degree of geographic and demographic variability in indicator priorities. The team found broadly similar domains and attributes of human well- being across the regions, yet measurable indicators were specific to the contexts. Despite this, the congruence of overarching domains suggests that a high-level framework of human well-being can guide a holistic assessment of the human impacts of environmental change across diverse regions.


Biedenweg, Kelly. (2016). A Comparative Study of Human Well-Being Indicators Across Three Puget Sound Regions. Society & Natural Resources. doi:


‘Inside Radiolab’ will interview PSI Director and other Puget Sound area panelists

1280px-WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgOur Director Joel Baker is part of a panel of four environmental leaders in Puget Sound who will be interviewed onstage at the Inside Radiolab show next week in Tacoma. Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will host the January 22nd event at the Pantages Theater where he will interview panelists about Northwest water issues.

In addition to Baker, other panelists include Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, Ryan Mello, Executive Director of Pierce Conservation District and Sheida Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Radiolab’s quirky take on science has made it one of the Internet’s most popular podcasts, with more than 4 million downloads. It is also broadcast on over 450 public radio stations around the country. The live theater presentation will go behind the scenes of the show, with Krulwich talking about how he and his co-host Jad Abumrad create some of radio’s most compelling science journalism. The show begins at 7:30.

Read more about the event.


State approves human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound

The state today adopted a series of human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound. The project was led by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg and was featured in a story published by UW News and picked up by several news outlets. 

July 29, 2015

Healthier Puget Sound depends on healthy people, report finds

from UW Today 

A thriving Puget Sound depends on healthy habitat that can support the animals and plants that live here. Shellfish free of toxins, salmon dashing up streams and forests full of diversity all are important benchmarks for the full restoration of Puget Sound.

puget sound-1-TILE

Photo: Puget Sound Partnership

But what about the people who live here? Should our well-being and the aspects we care most about in the natural world bear any weight on the plans — and money — being poured into cleaning up the Sound?

They should, according to the state agency tasked with organizing the recovery of Puget Sound. Continue reading


Wastewater study looks at Seattle marijuana use

One of our collaborators made news this week for his pilot study quantifying marijuana use in Seattle and Tacoma. Dan Burgard, a chemist at the University of Puget Sound, is analyzing wastewater from sewage treatment plants to identify levels of metabolized THC. The study is designed to determine if new recreational marijuana laws are leading to an increase in marijuana use. It will also look at trends over time, and how the legal trade of marijuana compares with the black market. Burgard is using analytical equipment at the Center for Urban Waters for his study.

Read more in an article today’s Seattle Times.


Ocean Modeling Forum to hold Pacific Herring Summit June 8-10

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

Puget Sound Institute lead ecologist Tessa Francis is co-chair of an upcoming summit to examine the human dimensions of Pacific herring fisheries in the Salish Sea. The forum brings together “social and natural scientists, tribes and First Nations, and federal and state managers” to identify new approaches to ecosystem-based management, including the use of traditional ecologic knowledge and social networks.

The summit will be held from June 8-10 in British Columbia.  Read more at the Ocean Modeling Forum website. 

Related article (UW Today): Ocean Modeling Forum to bring human element to herring fishery, others


UW scientist studies how pharmaceuticals impact the environment

University of Washington scientist Edward Kolidziej

University of Washington scientist Edward Kolodziej

Dr. Ed Kolodziej is one of the newest collaborators with the Puget Sound Institute. Kolodziej began his appointment at the University of Washington Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering last fall with a joint appointment at Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Tacoma. His research looks at some of the ways that organic compounds like steroids and other pharmaceuticals persist in the environment. Known as contaminants of emerging concern (CEC), these compounds are flushed into Puget Sound and other natural systems every day.​

Continue reading


Identifying priority science for Puget Sound recovery

In December 2014, the Puget Sound Leadership Council adopted the 2014-2016 Biennial Science Work Plan, a document identifying decision-critical science for Puget Sound recovery. PSI Research Scientist Nick Georgiadis was lead author on the report in collaboration with the Puget Sound Partnership and its Science Panel. In the report, Georgiadis addresses the challenge of managing large scale ecosystems in the face of scientific uncertainty. Read an excerpt from a summary of the Biennial Science Work Plan below. Continue reading


New data could yield clues to herring declines

Pacific Herring. Photo by Mary Whalen, USGS

Pacific Herring. Photo by Mary Whalen, USGS

It was a treasure trove, waiting to be uncovered. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) had been surveying Puget Sound herring habitat for more than 40 years, but until recently, much of that data remained in the original logbooks, un-digitized and unused. Recent efforts by Puget Sound Institute Lead Ecologist Tessa Francis in collaboration with NOAA and DFW have now made this data more accessible. The scientists hope that it will help to answer some of the key questions behind recent declines in Puget Sound herring populations. Continue reading


New geospatial and monitoring features on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound

PSI’s Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has a number of new features on its Maps/GIS page. We have improved access to the maps and data from our collaboration with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. Nigel Heinsius at UW Creative Communications created a new interface that allows users to view GIS metadata without leaving the Encyclopedia website, and there are also many new map layers.  Continue reading