New IU Grand Challenge initiative to tackle major environmental threats to Hoosier health, economy

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie has announced that IU will invest $55 million to help Indiana develop actionable solutions that prepare businesses, farmers, communities and individual Hoosiers for the effects of ongoing environmental change. The initiative — Prepared for Environmental Change — is the second project funded through IU’s $300 million Grand Challenges Program, which launched in 2015.

Indiana is already experiencing heavier spring flooding and hotter, drier summers, and the pace of change is expected to increase. The visible effects of changes in weather patterns also give rise to less obvious environmental changes that include altered growing seasons and migratory patterns, soil loss, and rapidly spreading diseases like Lyme disease, Zika virus and West Nile virus. Together, these complex changes threaten agricultural production, infrastructure stability, public health, and the diversity of plant and animal life.

The initiative will create an Environmental Resilience Institute to better predict the impact of these threats and facilitate collaboration between IU’s world-class faculty and Indiana residents, businesses, nonprofits and the public sector. Some of the partners include Cummins Inc., Citizens Energy Group, the Nature Conservancy and government officials from across Indiana. As soon as this summer, researchers will begin putting in place the infrastructure to collect data about the challenges Indiana faces from environmental change and to organize research activities to address them.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie

“Environmental change has been a constant through history,” McRobbie said. “Areas that were once fertile are now deserts. Areas that were once covered in huge glaciers are now home to major farming activity. Our state is not immune to changing environmental conditions, and these may cause major changes for some of the state’s most valuable assets and industries.

“The size and scope of these changes demand extensive collaboration between key public- and private-sector stakeholders. Great research universities like IU are uniquely positioned to help lead these partnerships and provide the intellectual talent, resources and expertise to develop and implement innovative and high-impact solutions to the most pressing needs of our local communities, our state and our world in the face of environmental change.”

More information about the Environmental Resilience Institute, the Grand Challenges Program and what will be done by IU researchers — led by internationally acclaimed scientist Ellen Ketterson, IU Distinguished Professor of Biology —  is available online.

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