Arctic climate change's effects on Midwest to be explored

· 3 min read

Arctic climate change’s effects on Midwest to be explored

NOAA scientists explore the Arctic during a 2005 mission.
NOAA scientists explore the Arctic during a 2005 mission.

Top researchers and policymakers will gather at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln next week to examine the implications of a changing Arctic on water resources and agriculture in the central United States.

The workshop will provide a framework for future research, planning decisions and the identification of possible adaptation and mitigation measures, said Don Wilhite, professor and climatologist in UNL’s School of Natural Resources.

The UNL workshop will be the first one held in conjunction with U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which was established in 1996 by eight Arctic nations and six indigenous people’s organizations. Last April, the United States assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Secretary of State John Kerry is the organization’s chair.

The Nov. 10-12 gathering will include a Nov. 10 public lecture by Jennifer Francis, research professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. Francis will present “Crazy Weather and the Arctic Meltdown: Are They Connected?” at 7 p.m. in the Nebraska Innovation Campus Conference Center auditorium. The lecture will be live-streamed.

“Rapid warming and melting of the Arctic is contributing to an increase in extreme weather events in mid-latitudes, where most people live and most of our food is grown,” Francis said. “Recent studies suggest that faster Arctic warming will cause more persistent wet and dry spells, as well as more prolonged heat and cold, all of which will affect water resources and agriculture. But how Arctic change will interact with other natural climate fluctuations, such as El Niño, is still uncharted territory.”

Significant climate and environmental changes are occurring in the Arctic and the pace of some changes has exceeded expectations, Wilhite said.

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he said. “The implications of these changes on agriculture, water resources, ecosystem health and other sectors for the Great Plains and Midwest regions of the U.S. could be profound given the importance of these regions as a breadbasket of the world.”

Wilhite said diminishing sea ice, melting glaciers and ice sheets, and thawing of permafrost will affect the United States.

The workshop is intended for a limited number of researchers and policymakers. Members of the media are welcome to attend any of the sessions; the complete program can be found here.

The event is sponsored by UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Agricultural Research Division, Office of Research and Economic Development, National Drought Mitigation Center, High Plains Regional Climate Center and School of Natural Resources. Additional sponsors include the University of Nebraska’s Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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