Far-Reaching Climate Research From Michigan Scientists

Local researchers are studying carbon footprints and wildfires
Wildfires photo: IStock

Michigan scientists are researching the carbon footprints of wealthy Americans and how wildfires may impact climate change. Here’s a closer look at what they’re up to:

Wealthy Americans have higher carbon footprints

Homes of wealthy Americans emit about 25 percent more greenhouse gases than homes in lower-income areas, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan. Lead author Benjamin Goldstein, a postdoctoral research fellow at the School for Environment and Sustainability, studied data from 93 million American homes. They found houses in the country’s wealthiest areas produce emissions as much as 15 times higher than nearby lower-income neighborhoods — primarily because of house size. Researchers recommend two interventions to lower emissions from houses: reduce fossil fuel use by turning to renewables and retrofit homes to cut energy use.

Measuring wildfire damage with sensors from outer space

As wildfires rage in the American West, Michigan researchers are seeking better ways to map the severity of the blazes, the damage done, and the potential aftermath. A team led by Nancy French, senior research scientist at Michigan Tech Research Institute, is using data from satellite systems that orbit every seven days, taking images of active hot spots and damaged areas. That data, along with information on topography and other variables, may enable scientists to find more sophisticated ways to determine how much smoke is emitted, how much material is burned, and what the climate change implications may be. It also will help with recovery efforts, French says: “Understanding how severe the fire is and how much is burning gives you a few things. It tells you how much the site is impacted and what’s able to regrow in the case of sites that are very fragile.”