CFANS at the Minnesota State Fair

Climate change can affect the health of individuals and communities in far-reaching ways. Human and animal health, agriculture and food security, transportation, energy, and ecosystems both urban and rural are all anticipated to experience continued disruption in the days ahead.

CFANS researchers are working to advance climate change solutions, from the soil in which we grow our food to the outdoors we love in Minnesota. In our exhibit, "CFANS Climate Solutions: Adaptation in Action," at the Minnesota State Fair, we highlight how our experts are using innovative approaches and tools to grow staple crops more efficiently and sustainably, simulating future conditions to study current impacts, assessing risks and making preparation plans for our communities.

Looking for more background on why we should care about climate change? Watch "What's the Big Deal With a Few Degrees?" (Global Weirding).

Climate and our communities

Minneapolis skyline and sailboats on a lake

One of our most used and important resources, water, is of particular concern around the world and right here in our hometowns. We depend on clean water for drinking, recreation, and irrigation, and wildlife and fish depend on it for survival. When water health declines, the life it sustains can experience ill effects. 

Because climate and the hydrological cycle are intertwined, the amount of water — too much or not enough — is often the focus of climate change concerns. But it isn’t just the quantity of water that’s critical. So is water quality. 

The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) helps communities prepare for climate risks. With state legislature support, MCAP, CFANS and Extension are working to deliver critical climate information to all Minnesotans. New funding will support farmers, local governments, and community groups in taking positive climate action.

CFANS' Water Resource Center (WRC) advances the science of clean water, seeking answers to Minnesota’s water supply challenges to ensure clean, plentiful water for all.

The food we eat

Field in front of St. Paul campus

Minnesota’s agricultural roots run deep. For years, our state’s rich lands have yielded an abundant variety of crops that are central to consumers’ diets here at home and throughout the world. 

Climate change — including increased temperatures, changes in precipitation, extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability — has the potential to significantly reduce agricultural productivity and food production. Ultimately, this could result in higher food prices and increased global food insecurity, which is already a major threat to public health in some countries.

CFANS researchers are using a variety of innovative approaches and tools to grow staple crops, such as corn, soybeans, and wheat, more efficiently and sustainably. Yuxin Miao and the Precision Agriculture Center use new technologies to support the environment while maximizing productivity of staple crops.

Healthy soil holds significant climate benefits, as well. Soil health management is key to sequestering carbon, storing water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping land be more resilient to extreme weather and a changing climate.

Food waste is the largest category of municipal solid wastes in the country, taking up more landfill space than anything else. CFANS researchers are working to whittle down food waste. Bo Hu, professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, and his research group develop bioprocessing technologies that convert agricultural residue and food waste materials into value-added chemicals and biofuels.

Our dynamic Minnesota landscape

Hiker in the snowy woods

Many people may not realize that Northern Minnesota, home of our beloved boreal forests, is a focal point of potential climate warming impacts because it sits at the transition — or ecotone — between the boreal and temperate forest zones. 

Our landscape is unique in the United States. Conifers populate our boreal forests, while deciduous trees, such as oak and maple, dominate the temperate forests of Minnesota’s mid-section. To the south and the west we find prairies. Rising temperatures, however, are altering those boundaries. 

In fact, our climate has migrated 70 miles north in the past 50 years — and may migrate 125 to 250 miles further north in the next 50 years. This means we’re seeing trees that for centuries have typically thrived in one zone appearing in unexpected places — like maples in the North Woods. Wildlife, too, is spreading northward to make homes.

CFANS researchers working with others on a project called B4WarmED (Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger) are seeking to answer the question, “How will Minnesota tree species respond to a warming climate?” 

If you want to branch out and find ways to foster healthy forests, here are some ideas to explore.  

The outdoors we love

In Minnesota, we adore our great outdoors all year round. From camping and fishing to canoeing and hiking, our state exceeds recreation expectations in every season.    

The plentiful natural places we play in however, including our multitude of lakes, are changing with a shifting climate. Freshwater ecosystems, and the fish that inhabit them — like our Minnesota favorite, walleye — are particularly vulnerable to the effects of future climate change. 

As the planet warms, lakes in our home state and across the globe are losing oxygen at a concerning rate. In many nutrient-polluted lakes (for example, lakes with excess phosphorus), the falling oxygen levels indicate rising water temperatures and harmful algal blooms. 

CFANS researcher Gretchen Hansen is using innovative techniques to “take the temperature” and track the quality of the lakes we love to understand how climate change is impacting water clarity, ice cover, habitat, and fish species populations. 

Here’s how you can help the next time you cast your reel in one of Minnesota’s legendary lakes.