UW-Madison Climate Expert Receives Prestigious NOAA Grant to Study the Great Lakes Region

September 5, 2018

The Great Lakes are an epicenter for power production, commerce, recreation, and so much more, but research suggests that they are also becoming a hotbed for climate change. In fact, research from the past two decades has shown intense weather extremes and fluctuations in the area, a trend Michael Notaro, associate director of the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research (CCR), will help to investigate through a three-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program.

A prestigious grant program, MAPP supports research that seeks to understand climate variability and change and improve models and tools used to prepare communities for climate impacts. As a part of this grant, Notaro will be investigating a pool of global coupled atmosphere-ocean-land models within the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Six (CMIP6) High Resolution Model Intercomparison Project (HighResMIP).  Specifically, Notaro will be studying the effectiveness of the tool itself as well as how it can be used or improved to further the understanding of lake-atmosphere interactions including lake-effect snowstorms.

“The Great Lakes have truly become one of the top three hotspots in the world where we see rapid climate change among large lakes,” said Notaro. “Improving the models that monitor the lakes will help us to better understand this trend.”

In fact, Notaro says that to date, cold season extremes happening on the Great Lakes haven’t been sufficiently monitored due to the lack of high spatial resolution modeling tools. In other words, prior to CMIP6, it was difficult for scientists to see the atmospheric interactions happening over the Great Lakes. The new HighResMIP, however, allows for much higher resolution, which will enable Notaro and other to see the atmospheric interactions happening around the Great Lakes in much greater detail and with more accuracy than before.

“For a global model to be at this resolution was once unfathomable,” said Notaro. “This CMIP6 HighResMIP represents an unprecedented multi-institutional effort to generate global simulations down to a median resolution of 30 km.”

While the latest modeling program, HighResMIP, will provide scientists with improved data, Notaro will be spending much of his time on this project evaluating the CMIP6 models to determine their performance and biases, how they represent the lakes, and how they integrate with other systems.

“It’s hard to get funding to observe a regional scale,” Notaro said of this Great Lakes focused project. “So, the fact that NOAA is funding this project is greatly appreciated. From this, we all hope to gain an enhanced understanding of the changing climate system and make improvements to our monitoring systems so we can properly assess the current and future state of the climate.”


Image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center