Exploring changes in rain-on-snow events in the Great Lakes Basin

Simulating winter precipitation impacts

A lighthouse on the shores of Lake Huron.

The Problem

Rain-on-snow events occur when rainfall melts existing snow on the ground, sending a sudden pulse of cold water through the watershed. While this naturally-occurring phenomenon contributes to the health of ecosystems in the Great Lakes region, climate change may affect the frequency of these events.

Improved understanding of rain-on-snow impacts is vital to better protect waterways, aquatic species, and surrounding communities.

The Project

To better understand the ecological, social, and economic consequences of rain on snow, a team of researchers, led by Indiana University’s Darren Ficklin, is creating a hydrological model to simulate rain-on-snow impacts under changing environmental conditions. The project is part of the United States Geological Survey’s Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC), a consortium of eight universities and natural resource organizations dedicated to advancing science in response to the climate crisis. IU’s participation in the Midwest CASC is coordinated by the Environmental Resilience Institute.

To create the model, researchers will combine climate model data with a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) hydrologic model of the entire Great Lakes Basin and simulate the water cycle through 2100. Modifying SWAT to incorporate rain-on-snow events and their influence on stream temperature should yield new insight into how climate change-influenced rain-on-snow events impact water levels, water temperature, and habitats of local wildlife.

The Path Forward

Results from the study, including maps and geographic information systems datasets, will be made publicly available and tailored to key stakeholders, such as members of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians whose traditional homelands reside on Michigan’s northwestern shores. Researchers will be in contact with nature resource managers throughout the project to ensure produced models support conservation efforts.

Updated Nov. 23, 2022

Project Data

The model and source code will be made available on the project’s website and an open-source repository. The website will include instructions on how to use the data and opportunities for community members to engage with the project.

The team also plans to publish their findings in scientific journals.

Research Team

Project Lead

  • Darren Ficklin, Department of Geography, Indiana University Bloomington

Collaborators

  • Carrie Coy, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
  • Samuel Day, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
  • Jason Knouft, Department of Biology, Saint Louis University
  • Karen Murchie, Center for Conservation and Research, John G. Shedd Aquarium