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Increasing precipitation, the threat of recurring periods of high evaporation, and a combination of both routine and unusual climate events — such as extreme cold air outbursts — are putting the region in uncharted territory. Current water levels on the Great Lakes are setting records.

Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region References

Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on Earth by surface area, surpassed its record of Water levels across the lakes fluctuate over time, influenced mainly by three factors: rain and snowfall over the lakes, evaporation over the lakes, and runoff that enters each lake from the surrounding land through tributaries and rivers. Runoff is directly affected by precipitation over land, snow cover and soil moisture.

Interactions between these factors drive changes in the amount of water stored in each of the Great Lakes. For example, in the late s surface water temperatures on Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron rose by roughly 2 degrees C.

Water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. As a result, water levels surged. At roughly the same time, precipitation was increasing. The flood follows the wettest U. What do these trends mean for water levels? In addition to the current onset of record highs, water levels in Lake Erie have been rising earlier in spring and declining earlier in fall.

More winter precipitation is falling, often as snow.


  1. Robert Jordans Wheel of Time: Eye of the World #8.
  2. Morte DUrban (New York Review Books Classics);
  3. Calculating the lakes’ water budget.

The snow is melting earlier in response to rising temperatures and shorter winters. The resulting runoff is then amplified in years like with large springtime rains. Great Lakes water levels have varied in the past, so how do we know whether climate change is a factor in the changes taking place now? Precipitation increases in winter and spring are consistent with the fact that a warming atmosphere can transport more water vapor. Converting water from vapor to liquid and ice releases energy.

As a result, increased atmospheric moisture contributes to more precipitation during extreme events. That is, when weather patterns are wet, they are very wet. Changes in seasonal cycles of snowmelt and runoff align with the fact that spring is coming earlier in a changing climate.

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Climate models project that this trend will continue. Similarly, rising lake temperatures contribute to increased evaporation. When weather patterns are dry, this produces lower lake levels. Similarly, cold air outbreaks are related to the Arctic Oscillation and associated shifts in the polar jet stream. These global patterns often have indirect effects on Great Lakes weather. It is uncertain how these relationships will change as the planet warms.

Rapid changes in weather and water supply conditions across the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are already challenging water management policy, engineering infrastructure and human behavior.

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We are undoubtedly observing the effects of a warming climate in the Great Lakes, but many questions remain to be answered. The Great Lakes are, collectively, a critical water resource. Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on Earth by surface area, surpassed its record of Water levels across the lakes fluctuate over time, influenced mainly by three factors: rain and snowfall over the lakes, evaporation over the lakes, and runoff that enters each lake from the surrounding land through tributaries and rivers.

Runoff is directly affected by precipitation over land, snow cover and soil moisture. Interactions between these factors drive changes in the amount of water stored in each of the Great Lakes. For example, in the late s surface water temperatures on Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron rose by roughly 2 degrees C. Water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. As a result, water levels surged. At roughly the same time, precipitation was increasing. The flood follows the wettest U.

Water and Climate Change | Union of Concerned Scientists

What do these trends mean for water levels? In addition to the current onset of record highs, water levels in Lake Erie have been rising earlier in spring and declining earlier in fall. More winter precipitation is falling, often as snow. The snow is melting earlier in response to rising temperatures and shorter winters. The resulting runoff is then amplified in years like with large springtime rains. Great Lakes water levels have varied in the past, so how do we know whether climate change is a factor in the changes taking place now? Precipitation increases in winter and spring are consistent with the fact that a warming atmosphere can transport more water vapor.

Converting water from vapor to liquid and ice releases energy. As a result, increased atmospheric moisture contributes to more precipitation during extreme events. That is, when weather patterns are wet, they are very wet. Changes in seasonal cycles of snowmelt and runoff align with the fact that spring is coming earlier in a changing climate.

Lake Sciences and Climate Change

Climate models project that this trend will continue. Similarly, rising lake temperatures contribute to increased evaporation.

The Coming Storm of Climate Change

When weather patterns are dry, this produces lower lake levels. Similarly, cold air outbreaks are related to the Arctic Oscillation and associated shifts in the polar jet stream. These global patterns often have indirect effects on Great Lakes weather.

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It is uncertain how these relationships will change as the planet warms. Rapid changes in weather and water supply conditions across the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are already challenging water management policy, engineering infrastructure and human behavior. We are undoubtedly observing the effects of a warming climate in the Great Lakes, but many questions remain to be answered.

The Great Lakes are, collectively, a critical water resource. Government agencies and weather forecasters need new tools to assess how future climate conditions may affect the Great Lakes water budget and water levels, along with better shorter-term forecasts that capture changing conditions.

Innovative techniques, such as incorporating information from snow and soil moisture maps into seasonal water supply forecasts, can help capture a full picture of what is happening to the water budget.