Indiana University

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book examines impact of climate change on Midwest, possible responses

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Feb. 7, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new book edited by Indiana University faculty member Sara C. Pryor examines the ways in which climate change is having a significant impact on the Midwestern United States through more frequent heavy rain events, drought, extreme heat and other factors.

"Climate Change in the Midwest: Impacts, Risks, Vulnerability, and Adaptation," published by Indiana University Press, focuses on identifying and quantifying risks and vulnerabilities, providing guidance for researchers and policymakers seeking ways to mitigate and promote adaptation to climate change.

"The Midwest already experiences negative economic and environmental impacts from current climate variability, and climate extremes have magnified over the last century and are projected to continue to do so," said Pryor, Provost's Professor of Atmospheric Science in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.

"At the same time, our region is playing a key role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases via our investments in biofuels and renewable energy technologies such as wind power," she said. "These actions are critical to ensuring not only that we avoid the worst climate futures, but also to making sure that our region remains vibrant in the face of climate change that has become inevitable."

Pryor also is a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on climate change and a coordinating lead author for the third National Climate Assessment, released in draft form last month by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The draft assessment concluded that climate change is affecting the American people through increased frequency of heat waves, heavy downpours, floods and drought and through rising sea levels, acidification of oceans, and melting of glaciers and arctic sea ice.

"Climate Change in the Midwest" describes how a changing climate, produced by increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is having and will continue to have an impact on agriculture, human health, and water, energy and infrastructure in the region.

For example, extreme rainfall events have increased in frequency over the past century and are projected to continue to intensify. Many occur in the spring, flooding agricultural lands and delaying the planting of corn and soybeans and thus reducing crop yields. Intense rainfall events also overwhelm the water management systems of Midwestern cities, causing 8 billion gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage to be discharged into the region's waterways each year.

Extreme heat and drought damage crops, as they did in the summer of 2012, and they also have serious effects on human health. Researchers project that, by the middle of this century, the likelihood will double of an extreme heat wave like the one that killed nearly 800 people in Chicago in 1995.

The book also explores opportunities in the Midwest to mitigate climate change, including the potential for significant reductions in CO2 emissions and changes in farming practices. It also examines what is being done and what can be done to adapt to climate change -- for example, improving wastewater management, enhancing electric-power infrastructure and installing rooftop gardens and landscaping to lessen the impact of summer heat in cities.

In addition to editing the volume, Pryor writes the introduction and contributes -- with Rebecca Barthelmie, professor of atmospheric science and sustainability at IU Bloomington -- chapters on the physical climate and socioeconomic context of the Midwest, the vulnerability of energy systems to extreme winds and icing, and prospects for future climate policies in the region.

Pryor is also IU Bloomington associate vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. She is editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres and of the book "Understanding Climate Change: Climate Variability, Predictability, and Change in the Midwestern United States," published by IU Press in 2009.

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