Climate Change in the Midwest: A Synthesis Report for the National Climate Assessment

Climate Change in the Midwest: A Synthesis Report for the National Climate Assessment


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Developed to inform the 2013 National Climate Assessment, and a landmark study in terms of its breadth and depth of coverage and conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Climate Change in the Midwest examines the known effects and relationships of climate change variables on the eight states that make up the region.
This state of the art assessment comes from a broad range of experts in academia, private industry, state and local governments, NGOs, professional societies, and impacted communities. It highlights past climate trends, projected climate change and vulnerabilities, and impacts to specific sectors.

Rich in science and case studies, it examines the latest climate change impacts, scenarios, vulnerabilities, and adaptive capacity and offers decision makers and stakeholders a substantial basis from which to make informed choices that will affect the well-being of the region’s inhabitants in the decades to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610914291
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Series: NCA Regional Input Reports Series
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Julie Winkler is a professor of Geography at Michigan State University. She is interested in many aspects of geography and climatology including synoptic and applied climatology, regional climate change, and climate scenario development and evaluation. Current and past research topics include heavy precipitation, nocturnal thunderstorms, low-level wind maxima, airflow within midlatitude cyclones, wildland fire risk, and the possible impacts of potential future climate change particularly on agriculture. Much of Professor Winkler's research has focused on the Central Plains and Great Lakes region of the United States.

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Climate Change in the Midwest

A Synthesis Report for the National Climate Assessment

By Julie A. Winkler, Jeffrey A. Andresen, Jerry L. Hatfield, David Bidwell, Daniel Brown


Copyright © 2014 Michigan State University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-511-3


An Introduction to the Synthesis Report

1.1 About this Report

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that national assessments of climate change be prepared for the U.S. at regular intervals. The Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) was initiated in 2011, with the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee (NCADAC), a federal advisory committee, charged with developing the NCA report. The Third NCA report is organized by sectors and by regions. Technicalinput teams were established to help support the development of the Third NCA report. Each team prepared an in-depth technical compilation of literature relevant to a particular sector or region.

This report represents the efforts of the Midwest Technical Input Team (MTIT), and summarizes and highlights the key vulnerabilities and potential impacts of climate change on critical sectors and processes within the U.S. Midwest. The MTIT was coordinated by the NOAA-funded Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) Center and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). The initial technical report, submitted to the NCA on 1 March 2012, consisted of a series of whitepapers commissioned from experts within the Midwest. The whitepaper authors were given considerable flexibility in the organization of their whitepapers, in recognition of the diversity of concerns and the availability of relevant literature for the different sectors. Authors were also given considerable latitude in the degree and manner in which they provided confidence characterizations of potential future changes. Following this initial submission, the whitepapers were externally reviewed with at least two ad hoc reviews obtained for each whitepaper. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 Office provided an agency review of the whitepapers most relevant to their mission. Whitepaper authors responded to the comments of both the ad hoc and agency reviewers, and the revised manuscripts were further reviewed by an editorial board.

Below we provide a brief regional context for the chapters that follow, and describe the organization of the synthesis report. This report will hopefully serve as a useful resource for Midwestern stakeholders and decision-makers.

1.2 A Regional Context

The U.S. Midwest, as defined for the U.S. National Climate Assessment, includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Climate change is anticipated to have a profound influence on the physical, biological and human systems within this unique and diverse region.

The Midwest spans several steep natural gradients. Geological features transition from ancient, crystalline rocks overlain by glacial sediments in the north to a series of sedimentary rock strata covered by deep unconsolidated deposits across the central Midwest to igneous/volcanic rock deposits within the Ozark Plateau in southern Missouri (Vigil et al. 2000). Changes in elevation are relatively minor, ranging from less than 500 feet (152 meters) above sea level along the Ohio River Valley to more than 1300 feet (396 meters) in the Superior Uplands of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and across sections of the Ozark Plateau in Missouri and the Appalachian Plateau in eastern Ohio. Soil types range from loess-dominated soils across most western and central sections of the region to alluvial soils near the major rivers to coarse-textured, highly heterogeneous soils in northeastern sections resulting from repeated glaciations to relatively old, highly-weathered soils in the southeast (Ruhe 1984).

Temperature decreases substantially from south-to-north, with annual mean air temperatures >55°F (13°C) in southern Missouri and Illinois and <40°F (4°C) in northern Minnesota (Kunkel et al. 2013). Because of its continental location, temperatures in the Midwest display high seasonality with warm summers and cold winters. Annual precipitation generally increases from west-to-east in Minnesota and Iowa and from north-to-south elsewhere in the region (Pryor and Takle 2009). The primary moisture source is the Gulf of Mexico, and the majority of the precipitation occurs in the warm season. The Laurentian Great Lakes of North America have a substantial influence on the weather and climate in the northeastern sections of the Midwest, with cloudier, wetter, and more moderate climate in areas downwind of the lakes than in areas upwind or away from the lakes (Scott and Huff 1996).

Native vegetation varies greatly across the region, ranging from boreal forest in far northern sections to grassland across the central and western sections to hardwood forest in the south and east to savanna and open woodlands in between (Baily 1995). The Midwest has experienced large reductions in natural land cover from pre-European settlement to the present, and much of the savanna, open woodlands, and wetland areas have been converted to agricultural use.

A substantial portion of the Great Lakes basin falls within the Midwest. The Great Lakes are the largest supply of fresh water in the world with more than 20% of the global total (Quinn 1988). Plants and animals inhabiting the Great Lakes system range from coastal and wetland species to open water plankton and pelagic fishes of sport and commercial importance (Lehman et al. 2000). The Great Lakes have a coastline and a coastal population on the same order of magnitude as many ocean coasts (Gronewold et al. 2013). Fluctuations in Great Lakes water levels have a large impact on hydrogeomorphic features (e.g., beaches and dunes), nearshore ecosystems, and coastal communities. The headwaters of the Mississippi River, the largest drainage basin in North America, lie within the Midwest. The Mississippi and its major tributaries, such as the Ohio River, have historically served as major transportation avenues. The banks of many of these rivers are now lined with levees, protecting homes, farms, factories and commercial establishments.

Although the majority of Midwest residents reside in urban areas, a larger proportion of the population lives in rural areas compared to that of the U.S. as a whole (U.S. Department of Transportation 2011; Pryor and Barthelmie 2013). Major urban centers include Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and St. Louis. Over 5 million acres of tribal lands are also found in the Midwest, primarily in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin (U.S. Department of Interior 2014).

The Midwest region relies heavily on coal for generating electricity, although between-state differences in energy sources are evident. Petroleum and/or natural gas are as large, or larger sources of energy consumption in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan (Pryor and Barthelmie 2013, their Figure 2.2). About one quarter of the nation's nuclear power plants are found in the Midwest (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 2014). Renewable energy comprises a modest, although significant, portion of energy usage within the region. Several Midwestern states (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana) are among the top ten wind energy producers in the U.S. (Pryor and Barthelmie 2013).

The two primary revenue sources for the Midwest are manufacturing and agriculture, with financial services, medicine, education, and tourism also contributing substantially to the regional economy. The abundance of iron ore in northern Minnesota andMichigan, the region's proximity to the Appalachian coal mines and other sources of energy, and access to transportation including the Great Lakes waterways contributed to the development in the late 1800s and early 1900s of manufacturing within the Midwest, particularly surrounding the Great Lakes (Sousounis and Albercook 2000). The introduction by Henry Ford of the assembly line into Detroit's nascent automobile industry further revolutionized industrial production (Gross 1996), and the Midwest remains the focus of the U.S. automobile industry. Five of the top ten states in terms of manufacturing share of total earnings fall within the Midwest. For these states (Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio), manufacturing accounted for over 15 percent of 2010 total earnings compared to 10 percent nationally (U.S. Department of Commerce 2013).

Agriculture also contributes heavily to the region's economy, and the Midwest represents one of the most intense areas of agriculture in the world. Corn (maize) and soybeans are the two primary crops produced in terms of revenue and acreage (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2007), and the Midwest is often colloquially referred to as the "Corn Belt" (Hart 1986). This nomenclature, however, masks the diversity of Midwestern agriculture, which also includes the production of livestock (including dairy), vegetables, fruits, tree nuts, berries, and nursery and greenhouse plants. Agriculture is also the major land use within the Midwest (Niyogi and Mishra 2013). Most of the cropland in the Midwest is non-irrigated, although the number of irrigated acres has been steadily increasing (Schaible and Aillery 2012).

Tourism tax receipts range from approximately $6 billion in Iowa and Missouri to over $27 billion in Illinois (U.S. Travel Association 2012). Recreational activities within the region are diverse. There are 10 National Forests, 3 National Parks, 4 National Lakeshores, 64 National Wildlife Refuges, and hundreds of state and county parks within the Midwest that attract visitors interested in hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife watching, and exploring trails. Winter recreation is also popular with numerous ski resorts in the region and cross-country and snowmobiling trails (Shih et al. 2009). The Great Lakes are one of the nation's prime sport fisheries (American Sportfishing Association 2013). Golfing is also popular in the Midwest, and the region is host to a number of national golf tournaments (Stynes et al. 2000).

These and the many other systems and activities in the Midwest are sensitive to climate variations and change. The chapters that follow highlight past and projected future climate change and summarize potential vulnerabilities and impacts for several important sectors within the region, namely agriculture, ecosystems and biodiversity, forestry, coastal systems, energy, human health, outdoor recreation and tourism, transportation, and water resources.

1.3 Organization

The organization of this synthesis report is as follows:

Chapter 2, "Historical Climate and Climate Trends in the Midwest", provides a detailed description of historical climate fluctuations for the region. This chapter expands on NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-3 (Kunkel et al. 2013), a summary document on regional trends and projections provided to NCA authors.

Chapter 3, "Climate Projections for the Midwest: Availability, Interpretation, and Synthesis", describes approaches employed to develop local and regional climate projections and reviews their strengths and weaknesses. This chapter also places the climate projections included in NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-3 within the context of the numerous other climate projections available for the Midwest.

Chapter 4, "Agriculture in the Midwest", surveys the impacts of historical climate fluctuations on crop and livestock production and summarizes the large literature on potential future impacts and adaptation options.

Chapter 5, "Impacts on Biodiversity and Ecosystems", focuses on the sensitivities of species, ecosystems, and natural processes to climate fluctuations, and the possible constraints to adaptation. The chapter concludes with proposed strategies to assist species and systems adapt to climate change.

Chapter 6, "Climate Change Vulnerabilities with the Forestry Sector of the Midwestern United States" describes key vulnerabilities to the forestry sector, including confidence statements to represent the authors' assessment of the likelihood of these vulnerabilities. The chapter also includes a brief discussion of adaptation options for each of the identified vulnerabilities.

Chapter 7, "Great Lakes Nearshore and Coastal Systems", reviews relevant literature on the potential impacts of climate change on the physical integrity of Great Lakes near-shore and coastal systems and associated environmental and economic implications.

Chapter 8, "Climate Change and Energy", highlights the current and potential future impact of climate change policy, in addition to climate change itself, on the supply-side (production) and the demand-side (consumption) of the Midwestern energy sector.

Chapter 9, "Health", identifies potential human health risks in the Midwest stemming from climate change, with particular focus on urban heat waves, air pollution, water quality and waterborne diseases, and vectorborne diseases.

Chapter 10, "Outdoor Recreation and Tourism", summarizes the importance of the travel and tourism industry to the Midwest economy and addresses its vulnerability to climate change. Potential adaptation strategies are also discussed.

Chapter 11, "Climate Change Impacts on Transportation in the Midwest," assesses the potential impacts of climate change on regional transportation systems, including air, water, rail and surface transportation. Ongoing adaptation efforts are also highlighted.

Chapter 12, "Water Resources" places regional water resources within the context of historical climate trends and future climate projections. This chapter also explores the uncertainty surrounding future Great Lakes water levels.

"Focus: Midwest Levees" is a shorter contribution on a topic of particular concern in the Midwest. The Midwest has nearly 4,000 linear miles of levees, many of which are in poor condition. The risk of levee failure during a major riverine flood is a significant regional hazard.

Chapter 13, "Complexity and Uncertainty: Implications for Climate Change Assessments", draws on the earlier chapters and related literature to encourage assessment teams and stakeholders to consider complexity and uncertainty as integral to robust decision making related to climate change.


Historical Climate and Climate Trends in the Midwestern United States

2.1 Introduction

The Midwestern U.S., defined here as the region stretching from Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri eastward to Michigan and Ohio, ranks among the most important agricultural production areas of the world and contains a significant portion of the Great Lakes Basin, the largest supply of fresh water in the world with more than 20% of the global total (Quinn 1988). The current climate of the Midwest region is chiefly governed by latitude, continental location, large scale circulation patterns, and in northeastern sections by the presence of the Great Lakes. Day-to-day and week-to-week weather patterns are generally controlled by the position and configuration of the polar jet stream in the winter and transition seasons, with somewhat less influence in the summer, when the region is also influenced by frequent incursions of warm, humid air masses of tropical origin (Andresen and Winkler 2009).

The type and frequency of air masses moving through the westerlies is strongly dependent on the location of longwaves and the configuration of the jet stream across the Northern Hemisphere and the North American continent. Climate in the Midwest is a direct reflection of four primary airmass types from three different source regions: 1) northwestern Canada (continental polar), 2) Gulf of Mexico/southern U.S. (maritime tropical), 3) Hudson Bay/northeastern Canada (continental polar), and 4) northern Rockies/Pacific Northwest (maritime polar) (Shadbolt et al. 2006). Less frequently, airflow originates from the East Coast and western Atlantic and on occasion from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. The relative importance of the different airflow source regions varies with season.

Migratory midlatitude extratropical cyclones are an important component of the regional climate, responsible for a significant portion of annual precipitation (Heideman and Fritsch 1988). Cyclogenesis is driven by upper-atmospheric circulation, and cyclone tracks are dictated by the amplification and propagation of Rossby waves in the mid-latitudes. There are several principal areas of cyclogenesis in North America. Of particular importance for the Midwest are the Alberta and Colorado cyclogenesis regions, both of which are located on the leeward (downwind) side of the Rocky Mountains (Whittaker and Horn 1981). The Midwest also experiences a number of cyclones that form along the western Gulf Coast (Trewartha and Horn 1980), while approximately 20% of cyclones form within the region itself (Isard et al. 2000). Tropical cyclones, with origins in tropical and subtropical oceans, occasionally move into the region during the late summer and fall months following landfall in the southern or eastern U.S. and may bring widespread rainfall. Fortunately, wind or other related damage from these storms in the region is rare.


Excerpted from Climate Change in the Midwest by Julie A. Winkler, Jeffrey A. Andresen, Jerry L. Hatfield, David Bidwell, Daniel Brown. Copyright © 2014 Michigan State University. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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