Ferris professor says climate change will have a knock-on effect in Michigan

Ferris professor says climate change will have a knock-on effect in Michigan

BIG FASTS — Michigan temperatures have been rising in recent years, and even small changes could have big implications if trends continue, according to a Ferris State University professor.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most of the state has warmed by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.

Jennifer Johnson, a professor of geography and chair of Ferris’ department of social and behavioral services, said she sees the complicated aspects of climate change as something that needs attention.

“One of the most difficult parts of the climate system is trying to figure out all the intricate ways that different components are connected and affect each other,” Johnson said. “The initial change may be small, but the climate system is like a giant set of dominoes. This first change knocks over another domino and triggers a second change, which knocks over the next domino and triggers a third change.”

The EPA reports that humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by 40% since the late 1700s. Higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and longer frost-free growing seasons would increase wheat yields during an average year.

La Niña has also had an impact on Michigan’s climate. During La Niña winters, the south experiences warmer and drier conditions than usual. The northern states and Canada tend to be wetter and colder. During La Niña, the waters off the Pacific coast are colder and contain more nutrients than usual, according to the Grand Rapids-based National Weather Service.

In Michigan, the NWS reports that the typical effects of a La Niña winter produce warmer October and November, equal chances of snowfall and colder weather in December, and colder and snowier weather in February and March.

Johnson said factors like La Niña play a role in understanding how temperatures affect Michigan’s climate.

“In the past three years, we’ve had a rare series of three consecutive La Niña events in the equatorial Pacific,” Johnson said. “It is primarily a winter phenomenon, causing stronger easterly winds and colder surface waters along the eastern equatorial Pacific. This colder-than-normal water can sometimes spread along the coast of Central America and California, where it affects weather in the southwestern United States and can even affect the path of the polar jet stream.”

Significant changes can occur even with small changes in temperature. Slightly warmer air can hold more water vapor and thus produce more snow, warmer lakes can form less ice or form it later in the season, altering our lake effect snow production, and trees can sprout a little earlier and become more susceptible to late frost, Johnson said .


Johnson said there could be some surprising and seemingly counterintuitive weather effects from warming.

“People like to joke about ‘where is global warming now’ in winter when we have extreme cold, but the truth is that these cold air blows could be a direct result of Arctic warming,” she said.

“Many of us have heard of the polar vortex, a powerful wind system that circulates around the bitterly cold sea of ​​air in the Arctic. Some research suggests that warming of the Arctic is a direct result of polar whirlwinds weakening, which in turn could lead to more frequent cold air blows for us in winter,” she said. “We’ve always had them as a normal part of winter weather , but climate change may cause us to see them a little more frequently.”

West Central Michigan has seen a rise in temperature in recent years.

According to Michigan Environmental Public Health Tracking, the total number of extreme heat days in 2016 was 24 in Mecosta County and 18 in Osceola County.

According to USA Facts, the average temperature in February, the most recent month available, was 28 degrees in Mecosta County, which is 7 degrees warmer than the average compared to all February since 1985. In Osceola County, the average temperature in February was 26 degrees. That’s 8 degrees warmer than average compared to every February since 1985.

Johnson said the heat and rainfall swings can affect flowering plants, crops and the pollinators that support them.

For example, Johnson said, the air can warm up a little and cause trees to sprout a little earlier than usual, which can be a problem if that particular crop relies on migrating pollinators that haven’t arrived yet. This means that the crop yield has been affected.

“This is just a small example of how even small changes in our climate can have large impacts on our economy and food supply,” Johnson said. “Thinking about climate change and how we humans will adapt to it goes well beyond planning for slightly warmer weather, and trying to get your head around all these additional changes that will be triggered is a huge challenge.”

Conversely, if the migrating pollinators are those experiencing warmer weather and migrate too early, they will arrive before flowering and starve, leading to population collapse, and in turn crop pollination will be affected.


Johnson said she is sticking to observable, verifiable data.

“As a scientist, I also work to keep an open mind because our knowledge is constantly expanding and evolving,” Johnson said. “There is a lot of misinformation and political influence surrounding the issue of climate change around the world today, and I want my students to understand the underlying science and be able to ask good questions and think critically about what they hear so that they can draw well – informed conclusions for themselves.”

Ferris State has several climate-focused goals for its campus, including minimizing on-campus energy and water use by implementing changes to mechanical and electrical systems and participating in behavior change programs.

Other energy conservation activities on campus include evaluating utility bills, identifying energy saving opportunities, documenting energy and water savings, and obtaining rebates from utility companies.

In 2011, Ferris State University was awarded LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Gold as determined by the US Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute for its East Campus Suites buildings. LEED is a system for evaluating the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

Ferris received its LEED certification for energy use, lighting, water and material use, as well as incorporating a variety of other sustainable strategies.

According to the US Green Building Council, LEED-certified buildings save taxpayers money by using less energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a healthier environment for residents, workers and the wider community.

Johnson has served on the university’s sustainability committee for several years and continues to work with colleagues to improve the campus climate.

“At Ferris, we must continue to fulfill our mission of preparing students for successful careers and responsible citizenship,” said Johnson. “Almost every industry will be affected by climate change or climate-related regulations or policies in the future.

“From an administrative perspective, we need to ensure that we model our core values, including being an ethical community, through our decision-making processes, purchases and priorities. We are working from within to continue transforming the university into a more sustainable future while remaining fiscally responsible.”

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