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$55 Million IU Initiative Tackles Environmental, Climate Change

IU President Michael McRobbie announced the initiative in front of program partners at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

Indiana University announced a $55 million research partnership Wednesday that aims to find actionable solutions to environmental threats facing Indiana businesses and communities.

University officials, including President Michael McRobbie, largely avoided politically charged terms like "climate change" or "global warming" during a ceremony at the Indiana State Museum. But they said make no mistake: environmental changes that are already afoot need to be researched in order to prepare for the negative consequences of a warmer globe.

While heatedly debated by partisans, there is broad scientific consensus that an increase in the earth's temperature comes from man-made sources, including the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, deforestation and livestock raising.

That's led to a warming of the oceans, a rise in sea level and a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, among many other climate-related changes.

Extreme weather has cost the state $6 billion in the last five years alone, according to IU figures. Milder winters have contributed to a 430 percent increase in documented cases of Lyme Disease since 2001. And a projected 4-degree increase in temperatures across the state by 2050 could imperil corn and soy bean production, according to the school's data.

IU President Michael McRobbie says the Prepared for Environmental Change initiative will help Hoosiers prepare for these ongoing threats.

“The failure to understand, predict, and adapt to environmental change could threaten the vitality of Hoosier business, agriculture, jobs, and physical well-being,” McRobbie says.

The initiative brings together researchers, community partners, and businesses—including Cummins, the Columbus-based engine manufacturer. Brian Mormino, the company’s Executive Director for Environmental Strategy and Compliance, says environmental changes are a real risk to Cummins.

“This data that comes from this and the tools that they’re going to provide and the collaboration really give us that information that we need to be sustainable for the long term,” Mormino says.

IU biology professor Ellen Ketterson is the lead scientist on the project. She says, initially, the partnership will focus on data collection, to better understand how the climate is changing and where different species of plants and animals are migrating.

But “it’s not enough just to collect data,” says Ketterson. That’s why the team includes social scientists and policy experts.

“We’ll be able to make the most of the natural history data that we get to facilitate responses on the parts of communities,” says Ketterson.

So by better understanding, for example, the frequency of natural disasters like floods, says Ketterson, communities can engineer solutions to handle excessive runoff and improve water quality.

IU says the project will get under way as early as this summer, when researchers begin the data collection process.

The "Prepared for Environmental Change" program is part of a broader "Grand Challenge" effort launched this year by the university, which is pumping $300 million into programs intended to develop data and research to help tackle some of the most vexing public issues.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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