~ Conduct Research, Studies & Assessments

Collecting information on and understanding climate change are critical steps in taking adaptation action. This includes understanding what changes are occurring and the implications of those changes; these activities include:


Conduct & Gather Additional Research & Data (Impacts Assessments)

This strategy includes research studies, modeling, and assessments; these activities may happen at the scientific level but traditional ecological knowledge and citizen science efforts are also critical pieces that support knowledge enhancement. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has supported a series of assessments104; for example, a chapter in the 2009 report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States is a dedicated impacts assessment of the Midwest region.105 In addition, the USGCRP is coordinating the 2013 National Climate Assessment with multiple partners. Released in 2013, the report includes chapters on sectors, habitats, and geographies relevant to the Great Lakes region.106

The WICCI released a full assessment of both climate change impacts and adaptation strategies in 2011.107 This is a unique report as it was not produced through a government mandate but rather through a bottom-up process led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Individual assessments were provided by the 15 working groups set up by the WICCI to inform this report; these assessments are topic-based (Climate, Adaptation), place-based (Green Bay, Milwaukee), and sector-based (Agriculture, Central Sands Hydrology, Coastal Communities, Coldwater Fish and Fisheries, Forestry, Human Health, Plants and Natural Communities, Soil Conservation, Stormwater, Water Resources, Wildlife). These individual reports are available on the WICCI website.108

Species-level impacts assessments are occurring at a few different scales. In Minnesota, the National Park Service, the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute, and the U.S. Geological Survey are collaborating on a project to track moose movement within Voyageurs National Park using GPS collars that provide location and temperature data at different time intervals. The data collected will allow researchers to test hypotheses about moose movement in relation to changes in temperature and weather and help identify areas that may act as potential climate refugia.109 Also, scientists at Michigan State University are investigating the impact of changing climate conditions on population growth and survival of Great Lakes lake whitefish. They plan to create a model linking climate factors with lake whitefish population dynamics in order to provide a decision support tool and associated guidance for lake whitefish harvest management. The tool will help decision makers coordinate lake whitefish conservation efforts and harvest strategies under varying climate regimes.110


Conduct Vulnerability Assessments & Studies

Vulnerability assessments and studies help practitioners evaluate and understand the implications of climatic changes by examining exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. These assessments can identify impacts, what is at risk, and the range of options available to increase resilience and decrease vulnerability. Vulnerability assessments are gaining traction at multiple scales and for multiple purposes; for example, Executive Order 13514 mandates the evaluation and assessment of vulnerabilities that climate change may pose to federal agency operations and missions.111 Most examples from the Great Lakes region are assessments of habitats and species.

Habitat Assessments

The National Park Service’s Geologic Resources Division, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, has conducted assessments of 23 park sites. As part of this project, assessments of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin), Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana), and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan) have been conducted with respect to lake level changes. The project involves creating maps of vulnerable areas using the Coastal Change Potential Index, which allows scientists to quantify potential physical changes to the shoreline from future lake level changes.112

A regional climate change vulnerability assessment was conducted on wetlands in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake St. Clair by Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the University of Waterloo. Using a literature review, surveys, aerial photography analysis, modeling, and stakeholder outreach and engagement, the project team examined wetland communities’ responses to lake level changes (historical and anticipated) and adaptation responses (e.g., land use policy changes, lake regulation, dyking). The three major components of the assessment were wetland modeling, adaptation strategies assessment, and stakeholder engagement.113

Species Assessments

Species-level vulnerability assessments have been conducted in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In Illinois, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a vulnerability assessment of 163 species from the state’s list of “Species in Greatest Need of Conservation” in its State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP).114 Using NatureServe’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index tool, project staff ranked and assessed the relative vulnerability (from Extremely Vulnerable to Population Increase Likely) of plant and animal species to climate change. The project team created a climate change update115 for the SWAP based on the results from the vulnerability assessment.

For each of the “campaigns” listed in the SWAP (e.g., Streams, Farmland and Prairies, Forests, Wetlands, Invasive Species, Land and Water Stewardship, and Green Cities), conservation actions from the 2005 plan were analyzed and recommendations provided for consideration of climate change effects. For example, the 2005 plan calls for the protection and restoration of near-stream and in-stream habitats and processes; the update recommends planting and enhancing riparian vegetation that can provide shade and microclimate refugia to limit thermal stress on species. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is examining the vulnerability of Kirtland’s warbler to climate change and developing ways to address this vulnerability. Kirtland’s warblers are currently endangered and rely on Jack pine forests, which will likely be replaced by aspen and oaks along the southern margin of their range due to warming temperatures.116

As part of the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework (which includes portions of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin), project staff assessed the vulnerabilities of individual tree species and forest or natural community types. Gridded historical and modeled climate change information, as well as two different modeling approaches (climate envelope and process), were used to model impacts on tree species. A group of experts were also convened to evaluate individual species’ sensitivity and ground-truth model results. The vulnerability assessment results were used to create maps of the ecoregion showing where species might decline in the future.117


Initiate Targeted Research Programs & Studies

Investing in and enhancing targeted research programs and studies is important in order to understand the effects of climate change on natural resources. These initiatives can aid adaptation efforts by establishing a baseline from which to measure change or by addressing the specific uncertainties and variables that may be hindering progress on adaptation action.

Canada’s Regional Adaptation Collaboratives (RAC) Climate Change Program was created to coordinate research, planning, and action related to climate change adaptation.118 Two RACs are located in the Great Lakes region – Quebec and Ontario. The Quebec RAC has focused its climate change adaptation efforts on three themes: built environment, water management, and socioeconomic activities, such as forestry, agriculture, tourism, and recreation. The effort has been led by Ouranos with over 20 partners in the federal, private, and non-governmental worlds.119

The Ontario RAC has focused its efforts on three themes: extreme weather risk management, water management, and community development planning. The effort has been led by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment with partners in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Clean Air Partnership, Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Association of Canadian Educational Resources, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, York University, and Toronto Public Health.120 The entire RAC Program is ending in December 2012; Natural Resources Canada is planning to build on the efforts of the RACs through a new initiative called the Adaptation Platform (2011-16).

Other examples are related to species studies. Scientists at Michigan State University are examining bird abundance and distribution and their relationship with changes in land cover and climate in the Great Lakes region. This information will be used to develop models that can provide spatially explicit forecasts of future avian responses, which will be incorporated into bird conservation decision making.121 In addition, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center are updating a regional climate model to predict changes in water level, water temperatures, and ice cover for the Great Lakes basin in the next 50-100 years. These models will be used along with longterm data sets and time series models to explore how climate influences variability in fish populations in lakes Michigan and Huron. This effort will be used to forecast future fish production and will be presented to resource managers throughout the region to aid in species management.122

104 Gregg, R. M. (2010). U.S. Global Change Research Program [Case study on a project of the U.S. Global Change Research Program]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated October 2012)

105 Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. (2009). Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson, (eds.)

106 National Climate Assessment

107 Wisconsin's Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation. (2011). Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, Wisconsin.

108 Gregg 2012: Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts: A Bottom-Up Approach to Developing Climate Change Adaptation Strategies

109 Hitt, J. L. (2010). Identifying Climate Refugia for Moose Populations in Voyageurs National Park (VOYA) Using GPS Telemetry [Case study on a project of Voyageurs National Park]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

110 Lynch, A. & Taylor, W.W. (2012). Developing a Decision Support Tool for Great Lakes Lake Whitefish Harvest Management in a Changing Climate. Ed. Kirsten Feifel [Case study on a project of Michigan State University's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability]. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated October 2012)

111 Executive Order 13514. (2009). Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.

112 Gregg, R. M. (2010). Assessing the Relative Coastal Vulnerability of National Park Units to Sea Level Rise and Lake Level Changes [Case study on a project of the National Park Service - Geologic Resources Division and the U.S. Geological Survey - Woods Hole]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated October 2012)

113 Feifel, K. M. (2012). Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Communities: Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Adaptation Strategies [Case study on a project of Environment Canada]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

114 Kahl, K., Hall, K., Walk, J., Hagen, S., Lange, A., & Doran, P. (2011). Updating the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan: Using a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment to Inform Conservation Priorities. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg. [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy – Great Lakes Project]. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated March 2012)

115 Walk, J., S. Hagen, & A. Lange. (2011). Adapting Conservation to a Changing Climate: An Update to the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. Report to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Illinois Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Peoria, IL.

116 Koslow, M. (2010). Improving the Odds: Using Climate-readiness Planning to Reduce the Impacts of Climate Change on the Great Lakes Ecosystem. National Wildlife Federation.

117 Kershner 2012: The Climate Change Response Framework: Supporting Climate-Smart Conservation and Forest Management in the Great Lakes Region

118 Feifel, K. M. (2012). Canada’s Regional Adaptation Collaboratives Climate Change Program [Case study on a project of Natural Resources Canada]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

119 Feifel, K. M. (2012). Quebec Regional Adaptation Collaborative [Case study on a project of Natural Resources Canada and Ouranos]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

120 Feifel, K. M. (2012). Ontario Regional Adaptation Collaborative [Case study on a project of Natural Resources Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

121 Distribution and Abundance of Breeding Birds in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region as Influenced by Climate and Land Cover Change.

122 Forecasting Climate Change Induced Effects on Recreational and Commercial Fish Populations in the Great Lakes.