Climate change and Indiana 

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If Indiana summers aren't hot enough for you, they soon will be. Heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions have already forced temperatures up dramatically, and they're certain to go higher.

"Indiana could look more like Oklahoma or Texas by 2050" in terms of temperature, says Dev Niyogi, a Purdue University professor and state climatologist at the Indiana State Climate Office.

That could mean the average July high temperature in Central Indiana could soar from 85 degrees today to a blistering 96 degrees 35 years from now, researchers say.

And here's another way to look at the temperature increase: Between 1961 and 1990, the mercury didn't reach 100 degrees in Indianapolis some years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. If society doesn't get serious about reducing emissions, the city could suffer through 80 days of 100-degree heat every summer before the end of the century, the group says in a report.

Torrential Rain

Changes in rainfall could prove as problematic as skyrocketing temperatures, Niyogi warns. "We are acutely sensitive to the timing, location, intensity and distribution of heavy rain events," he says.

According to computer modeling, wet parts of the state are becoming wetter and dry areas are turning drier, notes Daniel Aldrich, a Purdue political science professor whose work touches upon climate change.

Rainstorms may have shorter duration, some studies indicate, but they're becoming more frequent and more intense, Niyogi says. The one to three inches of rain that Indiana residents are used to seeing in the course of a day could instead fall in one to three hours. Those driving rains are eroding soil, changing the amount of moisture in the soil and increasing runoff, he notes.

click to enlarge Plant hardiness maps have changed as average low temperatures rose. Fifteen years ago, most of Indiana was in Zone 5, where low temperatures varied from -10 degrees to -20 degrees. In a later map, the state’s extreme lows varied from zero to -10 degrees, placing it in Zone 6. - ARBOR DAY FOUNDATION
  • Plant hardiness maps have changed as average low temperatures rose. Fifteen years ago, most of Indiana was in Zone 5, where low temperatures varied from -10 degrees to -20 degrees. In a later map, the state’s extreme lows varied from zero to -10 degrees, placing it in Zone 6.
  • Arbor Day Foundation

Meanwhile, hotter temperatures are reducing snowfall. Because 10 inches of snow has the moisture content of one inch of rain, the result affects the balance of water, Niyogi says.

And despite heavy rains, Indiana will see more dramatic swings between wet and dry periods, which will produce droughts, he says.

Adding to the volatility, temperature is increasing more rapidly at night than during the day, which has implications for soil restoration and plant growth.

"We're also getting more heat waves and more extreme weather," Niyogi says. "This is all scientifically consistent because when we have even a small increase in temperature, the ability of the air to hold moisture increases." Wetter air creates powerfully extreme weather events, he notes.

Mitigating Climate Change

Yet even in the face of increasingly severe weather, mankind will find ways to cope, says Aldrich, the Purdue political science professor who studies how groups deal with adversity.

"To put it mildly, human beings are very adaptable, so whatever mistakes we've made as a race in terms of pumping chemicals into the atmosphere for the last 150 years, we'll bounce back from it," Aldrich says.

In the same ways California farmers now consider the scientific and social ramifications of their water use, Indiana farmers will change the way they do things, he maintains. But like the fishermen who continue to set sail for fished-out waters, Indiana farmers will maintain some of their traditional ways, he predicts.

Culture and lifestyle aside, understanding the increasing variability of weather represents the first step in adapting to the changes, Niyogi maintains. That could mean changing the types of trees, flowers, vegetables and grain planted in Indiana. It could require modifying planting dates, irrigation and the use of fertilizer and pesticide.

Temperatures are climbing more slowly in agricultural lands than in urban areas, Niyogi notes. That means people can make a difference by making the countryside greener. Citizens who are aware of the climate impact of cities can design and build green infrastructure that reduces carbon emissions, Niyogi says.

As people become more aware of the meaning of carbon emissions from cars and industry, they can begin to take action.

Awareness will bring change, and change will bring resiliency. It begins at the personal level, in Niyogi's view. "While no one solution will work for every individual, having an awareness of what options are out there and picking and choosing among them will produce a portfolio of actions," Niyogi says.

click to enlarge From 1961 to 1990, the temperature in Indianapolis didn’t exceed 100 degrees most years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. If society doesn’t get serious about limiting emissions, the mercury will climb above the 100-degree mark an average of 28 times a year by the end of the century, the group says. - PROVIDED BY THE UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS
  • From 1961 to 1990, the temperature in Indianapolis didn’t exceed 100 degrees most years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. If society doesn’t get serious about limiting emissions, the mercury will climb above the 100-degree mark an average of 28 times a year by the end of the century, the group says.
  • Provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists

He describes an optimistic vision of individuals. "We are all environmentally conscious, we are all looking for sustainability in our own ways and we are all aware that we are part of the solution."

Niyogi advocates making tools available to individuals and to the community to create awareness of climate change and aid in climate-related decisions. The tools would help people understand their water usage, nitrogen management and carbon footprints.

With a carbon footprint tool, for example, individual users could provide information about their daily activities — how far they drive, what kind of car they use and what they eat. They can get a sense of their carbon footprint and see what it means for them and for the community. Users could experiment to see how changes in behavior would affect the footprint. Economic tools for individuals would help determine the risk and rewards of taking action. A common example prescribes fertilizer use based on rainfall.

Tools for communities show how regional land use affects climate. At the national level, tools can analyze giant projects like reforestation.

If the tools produce a return on investment of the users' time and resources, people will use them, Niyogi predicts. Reducing a carbon footprint can have economic as well as ecological benefits, he notes.

"Technology can help, and education is critical," he says. "When you have the willingness to do something, the next step is to look for resources and education. When you combine those, you have the recipe for a solution."

Although climate change has become inevitable, mankind can take action to mitigate it. "Climate is changing, but we can be smart about the way we deal with it," Niyogi says.

Grasping climate change — online tools

You can't look out the window and see the climate changing, but the Arbor Day Foundation website provides the next best thing. Click on the site's interactive map at arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm, and watch most of Indiana change from Zone 5 in 1990 to Zone 6 in 2006.

Seeing the zones change on the interactive map is startling, but so are the projections of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Read the group's report, called "Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Midwest: Indiana," at ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/climate-change-indiana.pdf.

For a rundown on how extreme heat, downpours and floods will affect the Midwest's infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and air and water quality, see the National Climate Assessment prepared by a team of 300 experts at nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/regions/midwest.

You can help monitor climate change by volunteering for organizations like the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS. The list of experts who use the organization's stats includes weather forecasters, hydrologists, researchers, agriculturalists, climatologists, insurance companies and engineers. Visit the site at cocorahs.org.

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