ISWS climate models are poised to
predict future climate of Illinois
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[November 21, 2008]
CHAMPAIGN -- While scientists have predicted
for years that the global climate will change in the future, an
atmospheric scientist at the Illinois State Water Survey at the
University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is working on a climate
model at the regional scale to predict the effects of climate change
right here in Illinois.
A regional model may be particularly beneficial to crop producers
in selecting which crops to grow, when to plant and how to manage
field operations, according to Xin-Zhong Liang, who works on nearly
a dozen climate modeling projects. He also directs the Climate, Air
Quality and Impact Modeling System, a program to project future
changes in climate and air quality and their impacts in Illinois.
Worldwide climate models consider the effects of oceans,
hurricanes and other large-scale impacts on weather and climate
to foresee the future of climate change. They also average
weather conditions, such as temperature and precipitation, over
a widespread area.
However, these models won't predict what may happen in
central Illinois in 10 or 20 years from now, because they don't
take into account effects from lakes, rivers, crops and other
Liang uses data from global models, but also adds localized
information to formulate a narrower picture, "building piece by
piece," he said. Information may include topography, land cover
and use, soil structure, and gas and aerosol emissions.
Models on general circulation, regional climate, air quality,
and other climate and environmental factors can also be combined
to create a more integrated, comprehensive outcome.
To test the accuracy of the model in development, he looks at
past climate events.
"In model building, you benefit from past observations,"
Liang said. "What happened in the past provides data for
scientists to understand nature and formulate mathematical
models to predict the future."
A model that can successfully reproduce past climate
conditions is better positioned to provide future forecasts. For
example, Liang expects his model to accurately "hindcast" two
summer extreme climate events from the past -- the 1988 drought
and the 1993 flood in the Midwest, both of which resulted in
several billion dollars in agricultural losses and property
Once the model is fine-tuned, it will have practical
applications for Illinoisans. Liang is working with civil
engineers at the University of Illinois and the National Drought
Mitigation Center on a NASA-funded project to assist farmers
with decisions on when irrigation will be needed, given a
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Also, predictions about how human-produced emissions might affect
climate will be useful for city and community development planning.
In related research, Liang and his
colleagues are working on the following projects:
Impacts of global
climate and emissions changes on U.S. air quality
Impacts of climate
change on U.S. agricultural and invasive plant distributions
uncertainty in future climate change projections by downscaling
interactions and crop yield predictions
The Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, under the Institute of Natural Resource
Sustainability, is the primary agency in Illinois concerned with
water and atmospheric resources. On the Web:
[Text from file received from
State Water Survey]