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U-M researchers create map that highlights areas in Michigan vulnerable to climate change

Interactive climate change map of Michigan developed by researchers at U-M. (Credit: University of Michigan | The Mi-Environmental Project)

ANN ARBOR – Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new interactive tool that demonstrates which cities and vulnerable groups in the state are most at risk to be disproportionately affected by climate change.

According to the study, most cities in Michigan will be affected.

During the study, researchers looked at tree canopy and hard surface data, future temperature projections and locations of vulnerable populations to develop state “heat vulnerability” maps.

Researchers hope The Mi-Environmental Project will help influence policymakers and community organizations to commit to strategies that will ease the effects of a changing climate.

“Climate change often feels very far away," one of the study’s authors and research investigator at UM’s School of Public Health, Trish Koman said in a statement. "Some people think it’s in the future and that it’s something happening to other people in other parts of the world. Having a map of your own state and your own community can make that information seem closer to you because you can see areas you know that are having special vulnerabilities.

“We want to target resources to get started on projects to reduce this vulnerability. We would want to be sure that anything that we’re doing is helping the most vulnerable in the community to address some of these climate justice issues.”

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The research team worked with statewide community leaders, including Community Engagement Core, Michigan Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice during the study.

They then created heat stress vulnerability indices based on a technique originating in California that allows for the use of publicly available data. This includes data about impervious surfaces and structures, tree canopy coverage, locations of vulnerable populations to heat stress and areas with a projected climatic temperature increase.

Vulnerability and susceptibility to heat stress also considers the prevalence of age-adjusted obesity and geospatial data on children and poverty.

“Heat stress vulnerability is something that we can plan for,” Koman said in a statement. “If you think about the 1995 Chicago heat wave, or more recently in Paris, we know that these heat waves occur. There are actions that communities can take in terms of their land use decisions, paving and tree cover, programs for building social cohesion among at-risk populations like the elderly, and a number of those sorts of things.”

According to U-M, in addition to Koman, other authors include:

Gabriela Mentz, Ricardo de Majo, Mary O’Neill, and Amy Schultz, all of U-M’s School of Public Health; Natalie Samson of UM-Dearborn’s Department of Health & Human Services; Frank Romo and Peter Swinton of U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Michael Battaglia of the Michigan Tech Research Institute; and Kimberly Hill-Knott and Guy Williams of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.


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