Published: Oct. 12, 2009

MSU-led study to examine effect of climate change on global industries

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949, Julie Winkler Geography office: (517) 353-9186

EAST LANSING, Mich. – A team of international researchers led by a Michigan State University climatologist will conduct a first-of-its-kind study to measure the effects of climate change on global industries.

Using the tart-cherry industry as an example, researchers will develop a system for conducting climate-impact assessments for international market systems, particularly those with long-term investments such as orchards.

The research, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, could have applications for agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and other industries, said Julie Winkler, principal investigator and MSU professor of geography.

“An outcome of the research will be a unique climate change impact assessment for the international tart-cherry industry that industry stakeholders – including those in Michigan – can use when making decisions regarding future investments,” Winkler said.

Winkler, an expert in climatology, said the study is an extension of the Pileus Project she directed with fellow MSU geographer Jeff Andresen. With Pileus – named after a type of cloud – the researchers created sophisticated models relating climate to production and economic consequences for the tart cherry and tourism industries in Michigan. Online tools allowed stakeholders in the two industries to better manage their businesses.

While the Pileus Project and other climate change assessments focus largely on local and regional impacts, Winkler noted that global industries have production regions distributed worldwide that are affected differently by climate change. Thus, industry stakeholders require detailed information for all production regions and on the interactions between regions through international trade in order to plan for the future.

“Currently, methods for conducting an assessment for a global industry do not exist,” Winkler said. “Our goal is to develop such a framework.”

Winkler said the idea for the project was planted in 2002 when the entire Michigan tart-cherry crop was essentially wiped out by an unprecedented freeze. Michigan supplies about 70 percent of the nation’s tart, or sour, cherries, which typically are frozen and used mostly in desserts and beverages.

The dearth of tart cherries in 2002 prompted the United States to import the fruit from Poland – a move that opened the door to wider imports of tart cherries, Winkler said. Suddenly, growers in Michigan and elsewhere in the United States had a vested interest in the tart-cherry crops of other countries.

Winkler said the growers played a major role in asking researchers to think globally. “Really, it’s the stakeholders who said, ‘You’ve got to think bigger here, people.’”

With the study, researchers will create complex growing models of the global tart-cherry industry by examining the connection between climate change, plant development and yield, and the human side of the equation, including adaption strategies and trade practices. The study will analyze observations and projections for specific locations – down to a weather station – within the tart-cherry growing regions of Michigan and Central and Eastern Europe, Winkler said. Experts in climatology, agricultural economics, horticulture and computer science from the United States, Poland, Germany, Ukraine and Hungary will take part.

Frank M. Chmielewski, an international collaborator with the study and professor of agricultural climatology at Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, said the research could have major implications.

“The Great Lakes region is the most important tart cherry-producing region in the United States. In Europe, Poland, Germany, Hungary and Ukraine are important countries for cherry production,” Chmielewski said. “So this project is needed in order to estimate the vulnerability of this sector to climate change, including international trade relationships. It’s important to know the sector’s vulnerability in order to suggest measures for adaptation.”

Co-principal investigators, all from MSU, are Suzanne Thornsbury, J. Roy Black, Scott Loveridge and Jinhua Zhao from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics; Pang-Ning Tan from Computer Science and Engineering; Jeffrey Andresen and Shiyuan Zhong from Geography; Amy Iezzoni from Horticulture; and Nikki Rothwell from MSU Extension.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

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Julie Winkler, professor of geography, is researching the effect of climate change on global industries. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Julie Winkler, professor of geography, is researching the effect of climate change on global industries. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

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