Online Map Guides Great Lakes Climate Change Adaptation Planning

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Record heat, severe storms, rising waters: climate change adaptation becomes more of an imperative every day. But without accurate data to guide planning, government action risks being ineffective or insufficient, a problem when planning for effects decades down the road.

That’s where a new interactive map from the University of Michigan comes into the picture – for the Great Lakes, at least. “Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region” is an online tool combining economic, infrastructure, and population data for 225 counties across 8 states.

The University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute jointly developed the map with the nonprofit Headwaters Economics research group to help local governments across the region understand, plan for, and adapt to local climate change impacts.

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Eight States, Countless Challenges

Like the rest of America, the Great Lakes region is starting to experience a changing climate, often in unique ways from county to county. “The impacts of climate variability and change will be felt different in different regions of the Great Lakes based on their economies, infrastructure, and vulnerable populations,” said Don Scavia of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region map
Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region map via Graham Sustainability Institute

Regional officials and sustainability professionals from across the region worked together for a full year to direct the map’s development and determine the type of data it would display, like land-use changes for farmers or temperature rise for urban populations. “This collaboratively built resource is designed to give these communities some of the solutions-focused, place-based climate science they need to adapt,” continued Scavia.

Historical data from 1951 to 2011 is displayed for selected counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York State. Data for Ontario will also be added to the map in coming months.

Climate Change Adaption County By County 

The map is free to use and can display information from a region-wide basis down to the local government level when policymakers are deciding where to allocate their limited budgets in long-term planning. “We see a lot of vulnerability in our city because of age and poverty,” said Megan Hunter, planning officer for Flint, Michigan. “By taking an even closer look at our demographics and infrastructure data through the mapping tool, we can clearly see how cooling centers and other actions are key to responding to our residents needs.”

These local differences can mean governments will need to focus on drastically different solutions to climate change adaptation challenges. For instance, in rural Clark County Wisconsin, forestry and farming are the two largest employers. Over time, Clark County has gotten much hotter while precipitation has decreased, meaning farmers and loggers may face increased difficulty maintaining their businesses in the future – thus it’s ranked among the most economically vulnerable.

Clark County Wisconsin climate change
Clark County, Wisconsin climate change effects map via Graham Sustainability Institute

Compare this outlook to Cook County Illinois, home to urban Chicago. With strong white collar and health care industries, it’s ranked among the least economically vulnerable to climate change. However, even though temperatures haven’t risen as high as other places, Cook County has one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to heat vulnerability because of a lack of vegetation, high poverty rate, and large elderly population living alone.

Cook County IL climate change effects
Cook County Illinois climate change effects map via Graham Sustainability Institute

It’s these kinds of regional differences that make climate change adaptation planning such a challenging and ultimately important imperative. Armed with information like the data provided by the Graham Sustainability Institute’s map, policymakers will be better able to make the right decisions to build climate-resilient communities and economies – hopefully no matter what the future holds.

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