Initial Publication Date: March 8, 2021

2018 NCA Resources for Midwest Region


Regional Chapter Editor:

Lee Frankel-Goldwater, PhD Candidate, University of Colorado, Boulder

Chapter Reviewers, 2018:

Kristen Poppleton, Climate Generation, Megan Van Loh, Climate Generation, Lindsey Kirkland, Climate Generation
Jim Brey, Retired Director, AMS Education,, Jason Cervenec, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Clare Tallon Ruen, LakeDance, Patrick Hamilton, Science Museum of Minnesota, Gillian Roehrig, University of Minnesota,, Courtney Kowalczak, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College,, Steve Ackerman, The University of Wisconsin System,, Margaret E. Mooney, CIMSS/SSEC/UW-Madison, Jennifer Schwarz Ballard - Chicago Botanic Garden,

NCA Education Resources for the Midwest Region

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform people and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

It contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science through the Our Changing Climate section of the 2018 NCA report and 2017 supporting Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Engineering is addressed throughout, both from the standpoint of climate change impacts and solutions, however, the Mitigation and Adaptation sections contain the most relevant information. Finally, the Frequently Asked Questions section has useful information as it relates to an Introduction to Climate Change, Climate Science, Temperature and Climate Projections, Climate, Weather, and Extreme Events, Societal Effects, and Ecological Effects.

Chapter Background

"The Midwest is home to more than 60 million people, and its active economy represents 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product. In this report, the Midwest covers Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The region is probably best known for agricultural production. Trends toward warmer, wetter, and more humid conditions provide challenges for field work, increase disease and pest pressure, and reduce yields to an extent that these challenges can be only partially overcome by technology. The Midwest contains large tracts of federal, state, and private forests and preserves that provide significant economic and ecological benefits to the region. However, as a changing climate results in shifting precipitation patterns, altered disturbance regimes, and increased frequency of late-growing-season moisture stress, the effects of existing stressors such as invasive species, insect pests, and plant disease are amplified. Natural resource managers are taking steps to address these issues by increasing the diversity of trees and introducing species suitable for a changing climate." (Complete background and related figures available at NCA, 2018, Midwest Chapter)

Using this Guide:

The NCA Education Resources for the Midwest Region features 1) guiding questions, 2) key figures, 3) related chapters from the report, 4) lesson plans, 5) videos for all of the NCA key messages for the region, and 6) related U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit Case Studies. Teachers can have students explore the toolkit case studies to see how people are building resilience for their businesses and in their communities in the region. This page contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications for the region.

Chapter Table of Contents with Section Links:

Key Message 1: Agriculture

Key Message 2: Forestry

Key Message 3: Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Key Message 4: Human Health

Key Message 5: Transportation and Infrastructure

Key Message 6: Community Vulnerability and Adaptation

Key Message 1: Agriculture

The Midwest is a major producer of a wide range of food and animal feed for national consumption and international trade. Increases in warm-season absolute humidity and precipitation have eroded soils, created favorable conditions for pests and pathogens, and degraded the quality of stored grain. Projected changes in precipitation, coupled with rising extreme temperatures before mid-century, will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to levels of the 1980s without major technological advances.

Sub-categories under this key message:

  • Recent Agriculturally Important Trends
  • Projected Trends and Agricultural Impacts
  • Adaptation

Key Message 2: Forestry

Midwest forests provide numerous economic and ecological benefits, yet threats from a changing climate are interacting with existing stressors such as invasive species and pests to increase tree mortality and reduce forest productivity. Without adaptive actions, these interactions will result in the loss of economically and culturally important tree species such as paper birch and black ash and are expected to lead to the conversion of some forests to other forest types or even to non-forested ecosystems by the end of the century. Land managers are beginning to manage risk in forests by increasing diversity and selecting for tree species adapted to a range of projected conditions.

Key Message 3: Biodiversity and Ecosystems

The ecosystems of the Midwest support a diverse array of native species and provide people with essential services such as water purification, flood control, resource provision, crop pollination, and recreational opportunities. Species and ecosystems, including the important freshwater resources of the Great Lakes, are typically most at risk when climate stressors, like temperature increases, interact with land-use change, habitat loss, pollution, nutrient inputs, and nonnative invasive species.

Restoration of natural systems, increases in the use of green infrastructure, and targeted conservation efforts, especially of wetland systems, can help protect people and nature from climate change impacts.

Key Message 4: Human Health

Climate change is expected to worsen existing health conditions and introduce new health threats by increasing the frequency and intensity of poor air quality days, extreme high temperature events, and heavy rainfalls; extending pollen seasons; and modifying the distribution of disease-carrying pests and insects. By mid-century, the region is projected to experience substantial, yet avoidable, loss of life, worsened health conditions, and economic impacts estimated in the billions of dollars as a result of these changes.

Improved basic health services and increased public health measures—including surveillance and monitoring—can prevent or reduce these impacts.

Sub-categories under this key message:

  • Air Quality
  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Habitat Conditions
  • Challenges and Opportunities

Key Message 5:Transportation and Infrastructure

Storm water management systems, transportation networks, and other critical infrastructure are already experiencing impacts from changing precipitation patterns and elevated flood risks. Green infrastructure is reducing some of the negative impacts by using plants and open space to absorb storm water. The annual cost of adapting urban storm water systems to more frequent and severe storms is projected to exceed $500 million for the Midwest by the end of the century.

Key Message 6:Community Vulnerability and Adaptation

At-risk communities in the Midwest are becoming more vulnerable to climate change impacts such as flooding, drought, and increases in urban heat islands. Tribal nations are especially vulnerable because of their reliance on threatened natural resources for their cultural, subsistence, and economic needs. Integrating climate adaptation into planning processes offers an opportunity to better manage climate risks now. Developing knowledge for decision-making in cooperation with vulnerable communities and tribal nations will help to build adaptive capacity and increase resilience.

Sub-categories under this key message:

  • Vulnerability and Adaptation
  • Collaboratively Developing Knowledge and Building Adaptive Capacity
  • Tribal Adaptation

Other Related Resources for the Midwest Chapter

Disclaimer: The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each regional team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the regional team themselves and not necessarily, NOAA and USGCRP.