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Yahara 2070's Development

Each scenario tells a different tale of what the Yahara Watershed—its people, its built environment, and its natural environment—could be like in 2070 if the region went down a distinct pathway of change.

To tell these tales in a comprehensive way, the WSC research team developed several components: narratives, artwork, driver curves, maps, and model simulations.

The Narratives and Artwork

To develop the four storylines, we conducted interviews and workshops with community members in the Yahara Watershed to capture their visions for the future of the region. Over 50 individuals—who represented local government, the non-profit sector, business, utilities, the farming community, and concerned citizens—provided their input.

By combining this public input with ideas from existing scenario work, we organized major themes into four clusters, which served as the basis for the four Yahara 2070 storylines.

Local artist John Miller, in consultation with WSC team members, then created a set of illustrations to help bring life to the storylines and their characters.

The Driver Curves

The land use and climate driver curves are the bridge between the scenarios’ narratives and modeling. As inputs to the computer models, the curves translate the narratives into numbers the models can use to generate outputs, or estimates of the future conditions for ecosystem services, like water quality and flood regulation.

The curves show the trajectories of change in different land use categories (e.g., urban, corn, forest) and climate indicators (e.g., average annual temperature, number of heavy rainfall events, length of growing season) from the present to 2070 for each scenario. Some of these changes are mentioned in the narratives, and others are inferred.

To create the land use driver curves, WSC researchers took a full inventory of what is on the Yahara Watershed’s landscape, using data from 2010 provided by the National Land Cover Dataset, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer, Capital Area Regional Planning Commission, Columbia County, Rock County, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Wetland Inventory. With these data as starting points, the curves track the estimated change in land area for each land use category out to 2070, depending on what happens in the respective scenario.

To create the climate driver curves, we pieced together several datasets. We started with statistics from a set of climate simulations for the time period 2046 to 2065 provided by the UW-Madison’s Center for Climatic Research, which they created with downscaled general circulation models (GCM). A GCM simulates how the climate reacts under varying greenhouse gas emission scenarios by mimicking the physical processes related to the atmosphere, ocean, land surface and ice cover (e.g., glaciers)—all of which interact and affect the global climate. We selected simulations from this set that would best match what occurs in the Yahara 2070 scenario storylines.

Since we were interested in tracking climate changes from 2010 to 2070, and the GCM data gave us only 2046-2065, we needed to fill in the time gaps. We did so using a stochastic weather generator, which simulates weather conditions, such as precipitation and temperature, over time.

Altogether, these datasets tell the climate change story for each scenario. It is important to note that we assigned each scenario a different climate. Varying the climates allows us to understand the potential impacts of a variety of possible climatic conditions the region could experience in the future.

The Models

Biophysical computer models used the driver curve data to simulate the changes in land use, climate, and nutrient management that occur in the four storylines. The results of these simulations are estimated future conditions for water quality, food production, and other ecosystem services by 2070.

Extensive field research conducted by WSC team members ensured the accuracy of the information the models provide. The field research team collected data on current conditions in different landscapes across the Yahara Watershed, such as cropland, prairie, forest, and residential areas.