USGS Wisconsin: Implications of Climate Change and Biofuel Development for Great Lakes Regional Water

Many questions remain unanswered about the sustainability of water resources in the Great Lakes Region with impending climate change and major land use changes associated with intensive biofuel production. Significant areas of prime farmland and marginal land set aside in conservation programs across the Great Lakes Basin are being targeted for biofuel crop production systems (Robertson et al., 2008; Kim et al., 2009).

The associated land cover/management changes will have unknown, but potentially significant, impacts on the quantity and quality of groundwater recharge. This recharge is the primary source of water to streams, lakes, and wetlands across the region. Additionally, Midwestern climate is predicted to change significantly in the coming decades with warmer temperatures, as well as higher precipitation and evapotranspiration, potentially leading to a net soil moisture deficit along with more frequent flooding (USGCRP, 2009). Working in conjunction with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), researchers from the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, Michigan State University (MSU), Ball State University (BSU) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will conduct a collaborative multi-scale effort to:

  • 1) expand ongoing field monitoring effort to collect a detailed data set of collocated, surface and subsurface water and nutrient fluxes and above- and below-ground biomass for a variety of model biofuel feedstock cropping systems,
  • 2) use our data set along with regional water quality and quantity data, provided in part by USGS, to further develop, parameterize and validate a new biogeophysical hydrology model,
  • 3) use our model to explore the implications of coupled climate change and biofuel-based land-use changes for Great Lakes Basin water quantity and quality, and
  • 4) perform a side-by-side comparison between a new landscape hydrology code and a USGS hydrology model.

Forecasting the effects of large-scale changes in agricultural management practices on groundwater is a significant shift from the past when such impacts were given little consideration. There is urgent need for studies of coupled land use and climate change because both changes are happening simultaneously. Our analyses will provide important information for water resource managers charged with protection of water for ten percent of the United States population and also land managers and farmers concerned with optimizing sustainable biofuel production in a time of impending climate change.