Unusual Partnerships Spawn Model Adaptation Effort

By Carolyn Rumery Betz

It might seem hard to find connections between Wisconsin scientists who study ice cover on lakes, migration patterns of birds, trout stream ecology, the physics of air currents or the health effects of Milwaukee's sewer overflows. However, since 2007, these scientists — together with other experts, managers and policymakers from around the state — have gained a solid footing on undeniably common ground: Wisconsin's climate is changing and a wide array of natural and human systems are feeling the effects.

In response, this unusual gathering of experts and stakeholders teamed up to form the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), a collaborative effort that works to identify the impacts of climate change on our state and to develop ways to protect and manage natural resources and our built environment.

Boys cool off in fountain Caldwell Photo
With more than five years of effort under its belt, WICCI is preparing the state for a future that will most likely be warmer and wetter, with more extreme weather events.

"WICCI started with many conversations between research scientists, the business community and natural resource managers who would be affected by our changing climate, and who would use our climate projection data," says Dan Vimont, an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and climatologist in the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The process of extracting local scale climate data from global models and "downscaling" it to Wisconsin was groundbreaking and is now being used across the country. "We couldn't have done this without input from other scientists and managers," says Vimont.

Apple stressed by early 2012 spring and drought

The project quickly took off, co-organized by UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. More than 200 people are involved in WICCI's 16 working groups, science council, advisory committee, and outreach group, and the initiative is widely regarded as a national model of a statelevel climate adaptation effort.

"WICCI is a perfect example of convening a variety of interests and different kinds of expertise to tackle a challenging issue, which the Nelson Institute is known for," says the institute's director, Paul Robbins. "It's the Wisconsin Idea in action, where we generate knowledge by linking university scholarship and research with the public and put that knowledge to work in the world."

Even after five years of research, analysis and growing partnerships, more work remains to be done. WICCI participants will continue their work to determine how a changing climate could affect the resources, seasons and regional attributes that define our state, and how we can adapt to protect the things Wisconsinites value most.