MSU-led Study to Examine Effect of Climate Change on Global Industries

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A team of international researchers, including several MAES scientists, will conduct a first-of-its-kind study to measure the effects of climate change on global industries.

Using the tart cherry industry as an example, researchers will develop a system for conducting climate impact assessments for international market systems, particularly those with long-term investments such as orchards.

The research, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, could have applications for agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and other industries, said Julie Winkler, principal investigator and MSU professor of geography.

“An outcome of the research will be a unique climate change impact assessment for the international tart cherry industry that industry stakeholders—including those in Michigan—can use when making decisions regarding future investments,” Winkler said.

Winkler, an expert in climatology, said the study is an extension of the Pileus Project, which she directed with fellow MAES geography scientist Jeff Andresen. With Pileus—named after a type of cloud—the researchers created sophisticated models relating climate to production and economic consequences for the tart cherry and tourism industries in Michigan. Online tools allowed stakeholders in the two industries to better manage their businesses.

The Pileus Project and other climate change assessments focus largely on local and regional impacts, but Winkler noted that global industries have production regions distributed worldwide that are affected differently by climate change. Thus, industry stakeholders require detailed information for all production regions and on the interactions between regions through international trade to plan for the future.

“Currently, methods for conducting an assessment for a global industry do not exist,” Winkler said. “Our goal is to develop such a framework.”

Winkler said the idea for the project was planted in 2002 when the entire Michigan tart cherry crop was essentially wiped out by an unprecedented freeze. Michigan supplies about 70 percent of the nation’s tart cherries, which typically are frozen and used in desserts and beverages.

The lack of tart cherries in 2002 prompted the United States to import the fruit from Poland, a move that opened the door to wider imports of tart cherries, Winkler said. Suddenly, growers in Michigan and elsewhere in the United States had a vested interest in the tart cherry crops of other countries.

Winkler said the growers played a major role in asking researchers to think globally.

“Really, it’s the stakeholders who said, ‘You’ve got to think bigger here, people.’”

With the study, researchers will create complex growing models of the global tart cherry industry by examining the connection between climate change, plant development and yield, and the human side of the equation. The study will analyze observations and projections for specific locations within the tart cherry growing regions of Michigan and central and eastern Europe, Winkler said. Experts in climatology, agricultural economics, horticulture and computer science from the United States, Poland, Germany, Ukraine and Hungary will take part.

Frank M. Chmielewski, an international collaborator with the study and professor of agricultural climatology at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany, said the research could have major implications.

“The Great Lakes region is the most important tart cherry-producing region in the United States. In Europe, Poland, Germany, Hungary and Ukraine are important countries for cherry production,” Chmielewski said. “So this project is needed in order to estimate the vulnerability of this sector to climate change, including international trade relationships. It’s important to know the sector’s vulnerability in order to suggest measures for adaptation.”

Besides Winkler and Andresen, other MSU researchers participating in the project are co-principal investigators Suzanne Thornsbury, J. Roy Black, Scott Loveridge and Jinhua Zhao, all MAES agricultural, food and resource economics scientists; Pang-Ning Tan from Computer Science and Engineering; MAES geography scientist Sharon Zhong; MAES horticultural scientist Amy Iezzoni; and Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.

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