Argonne Scientists Partner with Chicago Community Organizations to Track Climate Change Impacts

The impact of climate change is being felt across the planet in ways large and small; however, most climate models only look at changes on a large scale.

But it is increasingly clear that the impact of climate change is not felt equally.

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Now a team of researchers from Argonne National Laboratory is working with community organizations in Chicago to track the impact of climate change across the city.

The hope is that the data collected will help communities to develop strategies to become more resilient to the extreme weather events climate change brings.

The project is called CROCUS.

“CROCUS stands for Community Research on Climate and Urban Science,” said Scott Collis, an atmospheric scientist and head of the Geospatial Computing, Innovations and Sensing department in the Environmental Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to better understand how climate change impacts a city like Chicago by installing weather and climate tracking stations across the city.

“CROCUS is unique,” said Paytsar Muradyan, an atmospheric scientist at Argonne who specializes in remote sensing instrumentation and is part of the CROCUS team. “Chicago has never been so instrumented. So what we will try to do is kind of map what kind of information we are seeing in various neighborhoods of Chicago to try to understand how different neighborhoods are polluted, how much pollution there is, how heat islands are impacting different neighborhoods, and how the lake and the city in general interact.”

What is also unique about the CROCUS project is the level of community involvement.

Collis said CROCUS has already partnered with community organizations including the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Blacks in Green and the Greater Chatham Initiative.

“They actually help shape the science questions we’re answering,” said Collis. “They come to us or we work with them to work out what is the data they need to advocate for infrastructure that will make them more resilient to the worst impacts of climate change.”

According to Collis, current climate simulations have a “pixel size” of about 50 by 50 miles.

“So you think about a city like Chicago, that’s the entire city,” Collis says. “So the way it models Evanston is the same way it models Chatham or West Woodlawn. What we’re able to do in going on a block-by-block basis is really study how the things that humans have done — drainage, air quality, whether you’ve got green or gray infrastructure — how that influences the outcomes for the communities in Chicago.”

The first CROCUS meteorological station was recently installed on a rooftop at Northeastern Illinois University, where students will be actively working on the project.

“This is a really great opportunity for our students,” said Greg Anderson, professor of physics and environmental science at Northeastern. “We have a lot of tremendous students who come here that have passions to do fundamental science, but they’re also interested in civic engagement and kind of the greater social good, and this CROCUS project really integrates those three things nicely.”

Researchers expect to have a network of 21 advanced meteorological stations in place across the city by the fall of 2025.

One impact of climate change is more extreme weather events, including stronger storms that bring increased rainfall and flooding.

Chatham, on the South Side, has a long history of devastating floods, said Nedra Sims Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative.

“My historic family home, we had four major flood events,” Fears said. “I have not one shred of memorabilia from my childhood because all of it was either washed away or burned away when an electrical fire started from the flooding. Nobody wants to go through that. It’s horrific.”

Fears’ hope is that the CROCUS project will empower the community with data, knowledge and expertise to address the issue of flooding.

“In the greater Chatham community, we have the highest number of flood claims of any community in Chicagoland,” said Fears. “So we know what the problem is, what we want is solutions. And we’re hoping that CROCUS can help us look at what to do on an individual level as homeowners, property owners, business owners, and also collectively as a community to stop the flooding.”

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