Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, September 24, 2010

U-M to co-lead $4.2 million federal Great Lakes climate change initiative

U-M and Michigan State University will jointly lead a federally funded effort to help Great Lakes-region residents anticipate and adapt to climate change.


The interdisciplinary effort will be funded by a five-year, $4.2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new Great Lakes Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA) initially will focus on the watersheds of lakes Erie and Huron and three critical topics: agriculture, watershed management, and natural resources-based recreation and tourism.

The Great Lakes center is one of six new Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments awards, totaling $23.6 million, announced Wednesday by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

“Climate change is expected to dramatically impact the Great Lakes region. Tourism and agriculture, in particular, are extremely vulnerable, and disruption to those sectors will have wide-ranging detrimental effects for an already struggling Great Lakes economy,” says U-M aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, co-leader of the new center along with Michigan State’s Thomas Dietz.

“This new collaboration allows us to build a team of top scientists to devise effective adaptation strategies,” says Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, special counsel to the U-M president for sustainability, and a professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE).

According to the latest climate assessment report from the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, average temperatures in the Great Lakes region are projected to increase between 1.1 and 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century. Precipitation is expected to increase in the winter and spring and decrease in the summer and fall. More frequent and greater-intensity extreme precipitation events are also projected.

“Climate change is likely to reduce lake levels, shift patterns of precipitation and alter average seasonal temperatures,” says Dietz, Michigan State’s assistant vice president for environmental research. “The economy of the Great Lakes region and the well-being of its residents will be greatly affected by regional and local changes to the climate.”

Already, the region has seen a warming of about two degrees since 1980, less ice cover on the lakes, more lake-effect snow, and the onset of spring warming about one week earlier than previously, Dietz says. Future changes could include longer growing seasons and more heat waves, he says.

Researchers at GLISA will work closely with natural resources managers, land planners, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to advance new research about how climate variability and change will impact the environment, the economy and society. The researchers will help develop innovative ways to integrate climate information into adaptation planning.

In addition to Scavia, initial U-M researchers on the GLISA team are Maria Carmen Lemos, assistant professor of natural resources and environment, and Richard Rood, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences. GLISA also will include scientists from Ohio State University, and the grant is expected to fund other researchers from across the region.

Ignoring climate change could be quite costly, Scavia says. For example, sewers, bridges and flood-control structures are designed according to the amount of rainfall and floods that occurred over the past century.

“If we simply use those historical figures as a basis for our future plans, we are almost certainly building them incorrectly and will pay the consequences of inadequate design when they fail,” Scavia says.