University of Wisconsin scientists have released findings from the most comprehensive and sophisticated computer climate models to date, predicting severe changes in Wisconsin’s climate within the next 50 years.
The scientists based their models on the carbon emissions scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which received a Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with Former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 for their research.
“This is the best research available anywhere in the world regarding our understanding of how climate has changed in the last 50 years and how it is going to change in the next 50 to 100 years,” said Galen McKinley, assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UW.
In addition to the average 1.3-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase over the past 60 years in Wisconsin, 2.5 degrees in winter, the scientists project that by 2050 Wisconsin will have an annual mean warming of between 4 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Dan Vimont, UW professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
“This means there is a 90 percent chance warming will exceed 4 degrees and there is a 90 percent chance it will not exceed 9 degrees,” Vimont said.
Accounting for every realistic scenario of human development, Vimont added they used a more conservative model than what has actually happened over the last 10 years.
Considering the bitter cold and ever increasing piles of snow Wisconsinites have become accustomed to in past winters, milder temperatures might seem a welcomed change. However, this is not necessarily so, Vimont said.
“The models suggest there will be a robust increase in winter and spring time precipitation, including more days with freezing rain and less days with snow during the winter and a notable increase in very severe precipitation events,” Vimont said.
He added the models project a doubling of very hot days in the summer, where temperatures top 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the southern part of the state and a near tripling of such days in the northern part of the state.
This data is meant to provide a foundation that will allow scientists and researchers to explore and begin to address the potential effects and real implications of this climate change on the state, according to Vimont.
“The models identify what climate change will look like in Wisconsin over the next half century,” said Chris Kucharik, UW professor of agronomy and environmental studies. “The next step is to take this data and start to think about what kind of policy changes need to take place in order to begin addressing these changes.”
The projected climate change will inevitably have very real, potentially severe effects on a wide variety of Wisconsin’s resources, economy and agriculture, according to McKinley
“Even if we somehow completely cut off greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would still see significant climate change in the future,” Kucharik said.
Vimont and Kucharik will talk about Wisconsin’s past and future climate at an open forum today from 5:45 to7 p.m. in room 1106 of the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1512 University Ave.