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Climate Impacts

We assess past and future climate change worldwide, including impacts on Arctic sea ice and clouds, the hydrologic cycle, atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, and weather extremes. One such project is the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, in which high-resolution climate projections are being produced for Wisconsin, impacts on state resources are being evaluated, and adaptation strategies are being developed.

Principal Investigators

Sara Hotchkiss, John Kutzbach, Zhengyu Liu, David Lorenz, Michael Notaro, Steve Vavrus, Dan Vimont

Ongoing Projects


Project: The Role of Arctic Amplification in Modifying Mid-latitude Atmospheric Circulation and Promoting Extreme Weather Events
PIs: Steve Vavrus, Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University)
We are investigating how the rapidly warming Arctic may be affecting weather patterns not only in polar regions but also in middle latitudes. We believe that Arctic amplification of global climate change is causing the polar vortex circulation to weaken and become more meandering, favoring prolonged instances of extreme weather outside of the Arctic.


Project: Observed and simulated trends in heavy lake effect snow events across the Great Lake Basin
PI: Michael Notaro, Steve Vavrus
Funding from NOAA is allowing us to apply a regional climate model (RegCM4) in the Great Lakes Basin to project future changes in the frequency and distribution of heavy lake-effect snowstorms in response to anthropogenic climate change.




Project: Downscaling climate predictions for Michigan and the Great Lakes
PI: Michael Notaro
Under a contract from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, we are applying both statistical and dynamical downscaling to generate high-resolution climate projections for Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin, while also exploring the source of observed fluctuations in Great Lakes’ water levels.


Project: Extreme Arctic cyclones in IPCC AR5 experiments
PI: Steve Vavrus
Projected changes in the character of extreme Arctic cyclones are being examined, based on the expectation that these storms will become increasingly frequent and severe in the future and thereby affect access to the Arctic.


Project: Adapting the design and management of stormwater-related infrastructure to climate change
PI: Steve Vavrus, Ken Potter
We are using downscaled climate model output to assess the impacts of future changes in the hydrological cycle across Wisconsin, particularly how increased heavy precipitation events may pose challenges for stormwater management.


Project: Determining and mitigating the effects of climate change on stormwater hydrology and management for Great Lakes coastal communities
PI: Steve Vavrus, Ken Potter, David Liebl
We are exploring strategies to help stormwater managers in Great Lakes coastal communities adapt to impending changes in precipitation, as simulated by downscaled climate model output.


Project: The environmental impact of climate change on human health
PI: Steve Vavrus, Jonathan Patz
We are utilizing downscaled climate model output to assess the health impacts of hazardous precipitation events in Wisconsin, especially increases in heavy rainfalls and snow melts occurrences.


Project: The effects of extreme climate events on avian demographics: The role of habitat refugia in mitigating climate change
PI: Steve Vavrus, Patricia Heglund, Volker Radeloff, Anna Pidgeon
We are investigating the effects of extreme weather events on bird demographics and how these relationships may be affected by future climate change, in order to improve wildlife management strategies in National Wildlife Refuges and National Forests.


Project: Predicting future distribution of cloud forest and high-elevation species in Hawai‘i: integrating modern and paleoecological data to plan for climate change.
PI: Sara Hotchkiss
This study will predict future distributions of cloud forest and indicator taxa across high mountain ecosystems in Hawai‘i, provide future distribution models by integrating products from a climate-vegetation network on Haleakala with new regional downscaling of future climate projections, and also provide future distribution models that focus on longer modes of climate variability, including the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), by capitalizing on 3,000 year-long retrospective datasets and forthcoming climate projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5).


Project: The response of lakes to disturbance and climate change: Calibrating sedimentary records to test the landscape position concept
PI: Sara Hotchkiss
This research project is developing paleoecological methods and investigating the response of lake ecosystems to severe droughts, local fires, and the major landscape disturbance caused by logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s, benefitting and adding to the 30-years of data archived by the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research site.


Project: The effects of landscape context on the sensitivity of vegetation to climate change
PI: Sara Hotchkiss
This project uses pollen and charcoal in lake sediments to ask how soil texture and fire breaks have influenced the response of oak- and pine-dominated ecosystems to the climatic changes of the past 2000 years, including the Medieval Climatic Optimum and the Little Ice Age.


Project: Climate change and the Wisconsin environment: Identifying likely changes and key vulnerabilities in Wisconsin’s terrestrial habitats and bird and mammal species
PI: Sara Hotchkiss
This project is assessing the sensitivity of Wisconsin’s species and natural communities to future climate change in Wisconsin based on sensitivity to past climate variability, simulating habitats for future conditions using scenarios of climate change and management options, and working with the Wisconsin DNR Bureaus and WICCI to communicate findings in appropriate forms for planning and management.