Recent findings from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin researchers suggests the effects of climate change have been accelerating over the past 60 years and could drastically transform the state’s idyllic landscape in the future.
The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, a group of experts and scientists from across the state, released the report as the culmination of nearly three-and-a-half years of research.
Using data from the past 60 years and as far back as the 1800s, researchers tracked ongoing trends of climate change distributed across the state to make projections as to what the climate is going to look like in 50 years, said Lewis Gilbert, associate director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Gilbert said the results of this statistical analysis were combined with global climate models that had been scaled down to better reflect the size of the state.
Based on the predictions, he said the northwestern part of Wisconsin is likely to see a decrease in cold nights and the growing season extended by around two weeks. Within 50 years, coldwater fish such as trout may no longer inhabit the state’s freshwater streams.
The report also said longer summer heat waves, air-quality hazards, damage to infrastructure from violent storms and wildlife species moving out of the state are likely outcomes of climate change.
The purpose of the research is to better inform individuals who will be making long-term policymaking decisions and will likely be affected by the potential outcomes, Gilbert said.
“The purpose of the report is to provide decision-makers with information to evaluate the risk of climate change,” he said. “They can incorporate these climate changes in the process and be wiser about how they consider future planning.”
Jack Sullivan, director of science services at DNR, said the report is meant to convey the changing climate will affect everyone and allow citizens to develop adaptation strategies for the future.
He said though climate change would affect all of the state’s vital natural resources and communities, including Wisconsin’s recreational pastimes, it remains too soon to tell if the findings will affect positive change among policymakers.
Sullivan added nearly 15 working groups, comprised of 200 of the state’s top scientists, focused on the possible effects in areas ranging from human health and agriculture to water resource management.
These models for the future recognize climate change as an ongoing process that will require humans to adapt, he said.
“The whole thing is the need to understand the changing climate effects,” Sullivan said. “Climate impacts everything we think about, be it in a positive or negative way.”
Gilbert said stakeholders should consider long-term decisions in light of the predictions and cited the paper and forestry industries as entities that could consider the findings in future investments and policymaking.
He added although the industries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change will continue to face challenges in the future, Wisconsin can be competitive and protect jobs in these areas by being wiser about planning for the future.