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Climate Change in Wisconsin
Leopard Frog
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Climate Change Impacts:
Human Health

Human health concerns related to climate change result from a complex set of interacting human and environmental factors. These concerns are particularly serious for the elderly and other vulnerable populations (the very young, the poor, and those whose health is already compromised). Climate change projections suggest that extreme heat periods and severe storms are likely to become more common in the Great Lakes region. As a result, air and water quality, extreme heat periods, and storm-related risks could increase for residents of Wisconsin. Among the concerns are:

  • Increased Risk of Heat-Related Morbidity or Mortality
    Over the course of the century, the number of hot days (exceeding 90oF) annually is projected to increase, reaching 30 or more. Of even greater concern is the projected increase in extreme heat days (exceeding 97°F). By 2080-2100, Wisconsin may experience up to 20 such days annually. Extreme heat is associated with cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke; and lengthy or repeated heat waves may not allow people to recover. The ill-health effects of heat waves may also be compounded by other problems, such as high humidity and poor air quality. In order to avoid the worst health impacts, residents will need to improve warning systems and preparations.

  • Decreased Risk of Cold-Related Morbidity or Mortality
    Cold-related health risks are likely to decline over time, as the frequency of extreme cold weather periods during winter decreases.

  • A Potential Increase in Ground-Level Ozone Formation
    Weather conditions conducive to high ozone levels will occur more often over the next decades, and high heat days may lead to decreased air quality and an increased incidence of respiratory disease. Ground-level ozone is produced by a complex series of chemical reactions involving sunlight, oxygen, water vapor, volatile organic compounds, and oxides of nitrogen. The rates of these reactions increase with higher temperatures. Thus, as Wisconsin grows warmer, the formation of ground-level ozone, holding air pollutants constant, will increase. Research is underway to assess what may happen when temperatures rise but air pollutants are reduced.

  • Increased Risk of Waterborne Infectious Disease
    Extreme rainstorms can swamp municipalities' sewage and stormwater capacities, increasing the risks of water pollution and waterborne infectious diseases. As a result, outbreaks of waterborne infectious diseases such as cryptosporidiosis or giardiasis may become more frequent or widespread if extreme rainstorms occur more often, as projected under climate change.

    One of the best known examples of a cryptosporidium outbreak occurred in Milwaukee in 1993, after an extended period of rainfall and runoff overwhelmed the city's drinking water purification system, and caused 403,000 cases of intestinal illness and 54 deaths. Milwaukee's drinking water originates in Lake Michigan.

  • Increased Risk of Vector-borne Infectious Disease
    MosquitoThe occurrence of many infectious diseases is strongly seasonal, suggesting that climate plays a role in influencing transmission. St. Louis encephalitis outbreaks in the Great Lakes region, for example, have been associated with extended periods of temperatures above 85oF (29oC) and little rainfall. Some Vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease or more recently, West Nile encephalitis, have expanded widely across the region. While this spread is attributed largely to land-use changess, future changes in rainfall or temperatures could encourage greater reproduction or survival of the disease-carrying insects, which include ticks and mosquitoes, respectively.

Photo Credits:
Leopard Frog -- John Maguson.
Mosquito -- Courtesy of USDA.
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