From Drenched to Scorching
I’ve heard it said that weather is what we see when we look out the window; climate is what we see when we look at the data.
Our climate is changing, and it’s impossible to ignore.
In the western U.S., extended drought has drained critical water reservoirs, leaving millions anxious about where this life-giving staple will come from in the future. Parched countryside also remains ripe for wildfires, which continue to plague the driest parts of our nation and world.
In Minnesota, home to our fabled 10,000 lakes, most might say water is one problem we don’t have, but that isn’t quite true.
Climatologists say we’ll see a warmer, wetter Minnesota in future years. And as the world continues to heat up, our weather patterns will become increasingly erratic. That means Minnesota could soon be subject to periods of extremely intense precipitation—what are called “mega-rain events”—and then, paradoxically, face weeks if not months of drought.
Too much, and then too little, all in the same year.
That uncertainty means significant challenges for an agricultural state where farmers must rely on Mother Nature to grow crops or turn to widespread irrigation or switch to nontraditional plantings to adjust.
Meanwhile, an outdated sewer and water infrastructure in many cities means our systems may struggle to handle this increased precipitation. That could lead to more widespread flooding, erosion, and polluted waterways—which may put access to clean, safe drinking water further at risk.
When we face life-altering scenarios, research, education, and creative thinking are the most valuable tools we have to address them.
The University of Minnesota is working to find solutions to these very real problems in so many ways, from cutting-edge research to next-level demonstration projects that showcase innovation.
For instance, researchers led by U of M data scientists recently published a first-of-its-kind global dataset of the Earth’s lakes and reservoirs, showing how they have changed over the last three decades. That data will provide information about land and freshwater use, as well as document how lakes and reservoirs are being impacted by humans and climate change.
In another example, research from U of M experts recently examined the causes of greenhouse gas emissions in ponds. The scholars discovered that duckweed, a common plant, contributes to methane release from the water, helping propel us into a warming world.
In this issue, we share a few of the many ways U of M experts are helping us prepare for an unpredictable future, arming us with knowledge and insight, and a proactive approach to what’s coming down the road.
Kelly O’Hara Dyer can be reached at email@example.com.