The Planetary Health Alliance
The North Pacific Ocean experienced a marine heat wave during much of 2013-2015 that negatively impacted both offshore and nearshore ecosystems of the Eastern North Pacific. Driven by similar atmospheric forcing, the Columbia River watershed experienced low snowpack that resulted in anomalously low water discharge and high water temperatures in the Columbia River. Habitat and water quality monitoring in the Lower Columbia River demonstrated that endangered juvenile salmon were unlikely to use much of the typical intertidal habitat due to poor ecological conditions. Concomitantly, changes in the lower trophic levels of the ecosystem indicated that sources of primary production shifted to unfavorable species including taxa capable of forming harmful algal blooms. These ecosystem health conditions are likely to result in negative human health impacts, since the Columbia River supports several critically endangered salmon species and along with its tributaries support a range of economic and recreational services, including hydropower production. The atmosphere-ocean interactions that led to the marine heat wave are not likely a result of climate change, however, the anomalous hydrologic conditions in the Columbia River watershed during 2015 are similar to those predicted as a result of future climate change in the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, lessons learned from this event can inform ecosystem and human health stewardship in the future.
Climate change poses significant challenges to local decision-makers tasked with identifying, preparing for, and responding to climate-related human health impacts such as heat stress. To support diverse stakeholders, we created the MI-Environment platform, including a heat stress vulnerability assessment. Our goal is to identify the relative vulnerability of census tracts within Michigan to cumulative environmental exposures. In the heat stress vulnerability assessment, we used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to combine future ensemble climate model projections with other data. The maps display the location and relative magnitude of climate vulnerability on three metrics: built environment (Place), future temperature, and population susceptibility (People). Working in partnership with community-based organizations and health practitioners, we conducted feasibility testing at a Science Café in Detroit to refine the MI-Environment tool and identify opportunities to intervene and improve health outcomes. We describe the engagement opportunities to illustrate how stakeholders used the MI-Environment tool, and we summarize key results including locations of vulnerable communities and populations, future opportunities, and planned upgrades to the MI-Environment platform.