Iowa researchers team up to address impacts of climate change on health

A team of University of Iowa researchers will pool their talents to tackle climate change and related health concerns through a new initiative that uses a “collaboratory” approach. The project, titled “Illuminating the Nexus Between Climate Change and Public Health,” is led by Peter Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health.  

Peter Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Peter Thorne

A collaboratory brings together team members from different backgrounds and disciplines within and outside the University of Iowa to solve complex problems. The Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP), based in the UI College of Public Health, selects and funds the interdisciplinary projects through a competitive application process.

“This project is an important initiative to help the University of Iowa respond to new funding opportunities that address climate change and public health,” says Vickie Miene, interim director of the IIPHRP.

The impacts of climate change on health are extensive and growing, says Thorne. Because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth is on a trajectory to exceed a global mean temperature increase of 2°C over pre-industrial levels, he explains.

“Climate change is possibly the biggest challenge of our century and represents an existential threat to our country and the world,” says Thorne.

Rising temperatures are causing glaciers and sea ice to melt, sea levels to rise, ocean acidification, desertification, loss of biodiversity, spread of vector-borne infectious diseases, and increases in climate-exacerbated extreme weather events. In the U.S., inflation-adjusted billion-dollar disasters have dramatically increased in frequency since 1980. Studies also show that the burdens of climate change are borne disproportionately by people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status.

Growing recognition of the consequences of climate change has led the Biden administration to emphasize climate action and increase funding for climate change research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies.

“The overarching goal of this collaboratory is to assemble multidisciplinary teams of climate scientists and public health experts to develop innovative proposals that will attract new funding for research that addresses the nexus between climate change and public health, with a focus on climate challenges in the heartland,” says Thorne.

The collaboratory team will accomplish this by pursuing three aims:

In addition to Thorne, the team members include Hans-Joachim Lehmler, Mike Jones, Jong Sung Kim, Tom Peters, Caryn Yip, and others from the College of Public Health; Robert Blount, Alejandro Comellas, Peter Kaboli, Philip Polgreen, Jacob Simmering, David Stolz, and Michael Welsh from the Carver College of Medicine; Jerry Schnoor and Charlie Stanier from the College of Engineering; Margaret Carrel and Eric Tate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Stratis Giannakouros from the UI Office of Sustainability and the Environment; and Bjarni Haraldsson from the VA Health Care System.