M A Y 2 0 1 7
CLIMATE CHANGE IN
THE GREAT LAKES
Global climate change is already taking visible tolls on
our environment. From melting ice caps to
superstorms, its severe implications for our
environment are changing our everyday world.
In the Great Lakes region, climate change will have profound short
and long-term effects not only on the environment but also the
economy. As we gauge how the Great Lakes climate will change,
we also have to account for how it will impact local society...
Earlier studies predicted that climate change could largely benefit or
only marginally impact the Great Lakes region over the next 100 years.
However, more recent data suggests a bleaker outcome in many
A U.S. Global Change Research Program Report finds that climate
change may have a positive short term impact on agriculture.
Growing seasons will be longer with increased yields for soybean
and corn crops.
Warmer temperatures also mean we’ll need to contend with
new pests and diseases. Crop losses are predicted to increase as
a longer growing season increases the opportunity for damage.
In the southern region, warmer temperatures may compromise
livestock health and drier climates may limit the productivity of
It’s predicted that the forest composition will change due to
warming. The warmer temperatures will help some trees like Oak
and Hickory grow. However, Maples, Beech, Birch, Spruce and Fir
trees will decline.
In the short term,
CO2 concentrations are
likely to create forest
In the long-term, it’s
expected that increased
concentrations will likely
damage forest trees,
potentially offsetting the
positive effect of CO2.
Atmospheric Nitrogen deposits may promote growth in
forests, but the long-term consequences mean increased
nitrate pollution of waterways, groundwater, and drinking
Lakes, streams, and wetlands will go through massive
adjustments as climate change increases. Drier, warmer
seasons are expected to decrease winter ice and reduce
lake levels while aquatic ecosystems may experience a
number of altered situations.
Heavier rainfalls will increase erosion and reduce
water quality from soiled runoff, affect
transportation and degrade infrastructure.
In lakes, summer stratification and oxygen depletion will
increase, resulting in deep-water “dead zones” which
will impact fish populations and other organisms.
River flooding may become common. Land management
practices, more rainstorms and urbanization may impair flood-
absorbing surfaces of wetlands and floodplains. This results in
more water pollution, pesticides, and acid rain.
Refuge for aquatic organisms may decrease. Different
types of land use and fragmented environments due to
shrinking streams and waterways may limit dispersal of
amphibians and mollusks.
Although fish populations may grow faster in warmer waters, they
may demand more food web resources. In addition, lower water
levels with warmer temperatures can increase contaminants like
mercury in the food chain.
Trout, Whitefish, and other cool-water fish species will decline,
especially in the southern parts of the Great Lakes. Warm-water
species like smallmouth bass are expected to expand their
Groundwater will diminish because of low summer water levels.
Streams will dry up and wetland areas will decrease, reducing
The Great Lakes region contains 84% of North America’s fresh
surface water and provides drinking water to 40 million people,
including U.S. and Canadian citizens. If warmer weather
continues as predicted, droughts could occur causing a shortage
of fresh water for households and businesses.
Economic, Social, and Health
Since lake levels are expected to drop, costs associated with
shipping, dredging harbors and channels, water intake pipes, and
other infrastructure across the Great Lakes are likely to increase.
Warmer seasons could lower heating costs in winter,
but higher costs for summer air conditioning may
negate the savings.
Recreational fishing, hunting, and wildlife may be
influenced by changing species distribution across the
Health risks spurred by extreme heat may become more
abundant. Air pollutants and ozone deficiencies are likely to
exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases.
The predicted effects of climate change on the Great Lakes
may be stressful, but policymakers and citizens can take
action now to help reduce its impact.
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution while taking
steps to reshape public health management and building codes,
and shifts in fishery management can help locals prepare for
extreme weather and environmental changes.
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