Climate change liquefying Great Lakes ice: Study
Climate change may be wielding its heavy hand of influence over the Great Lakes. According to a report from the American Meteorological Society, Great Lakes ice coverage has decreased by an average of 71 percent over the past 40 years.
The study, entitled “Temporal and Spatial Variability of Great Lakes Ice Cover, 1973–2010,” used historical satellite measurement from 1973 to 2010 to measure the temporal and spatial variability of ice cover in the Great Lakes.
Jia Wang, the study’s lead researcher and an ice research climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, posited to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that climate change has had a hand in the shrinkage of Great Lakes ice. Mr. Wang, however, also acknowledged the role of natural climatic processes such as El Nino and La Nina.
Scientists argue that it is incredibly difficult to predict what the Great Lakes ice cover will look like in any particular year due to natural climate variables. Historical satellite measurements, however, suggest that all of lakes have experienced a significant decrease in ice cover over the last 40 years.
“There was a significant downward trend in ice coverage from 1973 to the present for all of the lakes, with Lake Ontario having the largest, and Lakes Erie and St. Clair having the smallest,” the study’s authors write in the abstract.
Lake St. Clair lost 37 percent of its ice over the 40-year period and Lake Ontario lost 88 percent of its ice. Lake Superior lost 79 percent of its ice. The ice loss of the other lakes fell between Lake St. Clair and Lake Ontario in the same time period.
The situation is not improving, Mr. Wang posited. The climatologist told WBEZ that in the winter of 1979, ice covered approximately 94 percent of the Great Lakes. “This winter the maximum ice cover is about 5 percent,” Mr. Wang said. “It’s the lowest ever since the satellite era,” he added.
According to a PowerPoint presentation constructed by Mr. Wang, understanding how climate change and natural climatic variables have impacted Great Lakes ice is important because the ice cover affects the economy in the Great Lakes region, the ecosystem and the water balance in the lakes.
Mr. Wang warned, according to WBEZ, that the loss of Great Lakes ice cover will have a significant impact on the Great Lakes ecosystem. The study’s authors are concerned that the loss of Great Lakes ice could diminish water levels and increase algae blossoms, which could impact water quality and eventually lead to shoreline erosion.