New project to address climate change impacts on Wisconsin

Feb. 4, 2008

A new statewide project will assess the potential consequences of climate change for Wisconsin's ecosystems, industries, farms and human health and will recommend adaptation strategies.

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) will organize teams of experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, state agencies and other institutions to consider how local and regional shifts in temperature, precipitation and extreme weather could affect key components of the state's quality of life.

"This initiative will combine the cutting-edge computer modeling capabilities of UW-Madison's climate research centers with the field expertise of Wisconsin's natural resource managers," says Lewis Gilbert, interim director of the university's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, which is coordinating the project.

"The purpose of WICCI is to anticipate and recommend adaptations to climate change regardless of its cause," explains Jack Sullivan, director of science services at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "There is little debate that warming is under way and likely to continue and that Wisconsin will be significantly affected."

The initiative will establish working groups of scientists from the UW System, DNR and other state agencies and institutions. Each group will study a specific ecosystem, natural resource or economic issue and attempt to answer questions such as:

  • Will climate change increase the occurrence of deadly heat waves, infectious diseases or other risks to human health, and what kinds of preventive measures will be needed?
  • What might the state do to protect the tourism economy, including communities and industries that depend on snowmobiling, skiing and other winter recreation activities?
  • How will the state's northern forests change, and what will this mean for the paper industry and other economic activities dependent on them?
  • How will climate change affect the state's waters, and what management decisions will be needed to protect these resources?

An interdisciplinary council of prominent scientists from around the state, co-chaired by DNR scientist Richard Lathrop and UW-Madison emeritus professor John Magnuson, will support and oversee WICCI working groups. An advisory committee representing business, agriculture, legislators, local communities, advocacy groups and other interests will help focus the working groups on issues that most concern them. UW-Madison's Nelson Institute will provide administrative and logistical support and coordinate outreach.

WICCI began last June at a meeting of UW-Madison climate researchers and DNR scientists and resource managers seeking to answer questions from state legislators about how climate change would affect their districts and constituents. The adaptation initiative complements the governor's Global Warming Task Force, created last spring to consider strategies for mitigating carbon emissions, which most scientists believe are causing climate change.

"Gov. [Jim] Doyle has taken action in the fight against global warming, from signing a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord with 10 other governors to creating the Global Warming Task Force," says DNR secretary Matt Frank. "The research that WICCI intends to do will be a great asset in the future steps we take to address this serious issue, and the DNR is looking forward to partnering through WICCI on this important research."

UW-Madison chancellor John Wiley calls the collaboration a perfect example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.

"The university is a world leader in global environmental research," says Wiley. "Together with the DNR, we are putting our best minds to the task of helping the people of Wisconsin grapple in very practical ways with climate change."

Initial support for WICCI is being provided by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, the DNR and the Nelson Institute, which will seek additional federal, state and private funds to continue and expand the initiative.

"We expect WICCI eventually to serve as the home base for impact assessments in the Upper Midwest," says the Nelson Institute's Gilbert. "Wisconsin could play a leading role in regional collaboration."