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Thursday, September 23,2010

Climate change and the Great Lakes

MSU faculty behind a five-year, $4.2 million federal grant to make Great Lakes climate change research more succinct, useful

by Andy Balaskovitz
Thursday, Sept. 23 — Climate change research done on the Great Lakes region is a hodgepodge and in most cases not very useful for policymakers. Researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University seek to change that, thanks to a $4.2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“There is a lot of climate research going on in the (Great Lakes) area that hasn’t been very well coordinated,” said David Bidwell, program manager for the Great Lakes Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) Center in Ann Arbor. “We are trying to make that research more efficient.”

Bidwell said the project has three main goals: connecting science and public policy, adopting climate change models on a more local scale and giving a portion of the $4.2 million to various research projects in the Great Lakes region.

Bidwell said the projects seek to bridge a gap between research and the ability of city planners, tourism-based industries, politicians and others to use it.

The two principal investigators will be Tom Dietz, a sociology professor and climate change expert from MSU, and Don Scavia, director of the U of M Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.

MSU geography professors Julie Winkler and Jeff Andresen will be part of the “climate model downscaling” portion of the project. Bidwell said a majority of climate change research has been done on a large geographic scale, which offers more general ideas on, say, average temperatures.

“That doesn’t tell you a whole lot if you’re the city manager of Lansing and need to decide what scale to build a new wastewater treatment plant,” Bidwell said.

The three areas of focus include agriculture, natural resource-based tourism and water management, with the last piece “tying them all together,” he said.

The Great Lakes region is the next area to be backed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding after the southwest and northwest United States. It’s not so much that some areas are in more dire straits than others when it comes to climate change effects, but that each region has its own set of struggles.

“Everyone is going to face their own struggles. It’s about how your particular region is vulnerable,” Bidwell said.

Unlike other areas of the world threatened by rising sea levels, the Great Lakes faces dropping lake levels due to climate change. The Great Lakes are freezing less often than they used to during winters, causing more evaporation to occur. In turn, we’re seeing cloudier, wetter and warmer climates during the winter, he said.

Some research has shown increased lake-effect snow events, which results in more frequent snows that stick around for shorter periods of time, he added.

All of this is particularly relevant to Michigan, which has a large water- and natural resource-based tourism economy.

“The climate has a huge impact on the lifestyle of people in this region,” Bidwell said.

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