Climate change will have big impact on Midwest, report says

Farm Forum

Climate change primarily caused by human activity will have a number of negative impacts on the Midwest’s agriculture, health, and environment in the coming decades, according to a new report commissioned by the federal government.

The draft National Climate Assessment released Friday, Jan. 11, by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, reports Minnesota could see average temperatures rise by as much as 5 degrees or more by mid-century, creating health risks and drastically altering the state’s forests.

The number of days with extreme rainfall is also expected to increase in Minnesota by mid-century, causing erosion and declining water quality and negatively impacting transportation, agriculture, health and infrastructure, according to the more than 1,100-page report that details the impacts of climate change across the U.S.

“It’s reinforcing a number of concerns that we have for the Midwest,” State Climatologist Greg Spoden said of climate data used by the report. “On the projection side, it shows a projection of increased temperatures that will have impacts on all elements of our natural and social worlds.”

The report points to human activity, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels, as the primary cause of climate change over the last 50 years. In some of its projections, the report looks at both future low-emission and high-emission scenarios, the later of which is actually lower than recent carbon dioxide emission levels, according to the report.

Under both scenarios, the forests of northern Minnesota will be drastically altered by the end of the century — with more dramatic changes under the high-emission scenario — as trees such as elm, ash, cottonwood, oak and hickory overtake aspen and birch, the report shows.

Agriculture will also be affected in the Midwest, with longer growing seasons and higher levels of carbon dioxide increasing some crop yields. Those benefits, however, “will be increasingly offset by the occurrence of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods,” the report states.

The increased intensity of and frequency of heat waves in the Midwest, along with lower air and water quality, will increase risks to public health, according to the report. In the U.S., heat is the number one weather-related killer.

Along an increase in air temperature, the Great Lakes are also expected to warm. Surface temperatures of Lake Superior are expected to increase by as a much as 7 degrees by 2050 and 12.1 degrees by 2100, according to the report.

While declines in ice cover will continue to lengthen the commercial navigation season on the Great Lakes, climate change is expected exacerbate changes to the range and distribution of fish species, an increase in invasive species and harmful algae blooms, and lower beach health, the report states.

Following public comment on the report, which was overseen by a 60-person federal advisory committee, and a review by National Academy of Sciences, the report will be revised by the committee and then submitted to the federal government.

The public can view and comment on the report by visiting