Report on Great Lakes climate change impacts

The Environmental Law & Policy Center recently assessed the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes. The report is available here.

The report makes many high-level conclusions, several of which are:

  1. Winters and springs will have higher precipitation and more frequent high-precipitation events. Summers will be drier.
  2. By 2100, 30-60 days of the year will reach extremely high temperatures above 90-degrees Fahrenheit, compared to today.
  3. The number of extremely cold days below freezing will dramatically decrease.
  4. Changes in precipitation and temperature will impact agriculture, a major industry in the region.
  5. Water quality challenges will become more frequent, especially due to increased pollutant runoff into the Great Lakes system associated with increased precipitation.

Overall, increased precipitation and temperatures might have the greatest impact on the Great Lakes and Midwest region.

Increased precipitation will cause more frequent flooding and flooding in areas historically thought safe from flood risks. In the short term, this will cause economic losses as properties not covered by flood insurance flood and infrastructure built in more flood-prone areas might need to be relocated or abandoned. Government bodies will face pressure to build new water management infrastructure, which is expensive and will strain government budgets already stressed by declining populations and economic activities in many Midwestern communities, especially rural communities.

Increased precipitation will also elevate soil erosion from agricultural land, a long-standing problem in the region that contributes to decreasing soil yields and increasing reliance on ag inputs like fertilizer and manure. More precipitation will increase the rate at which fertilizer and manure wash into streams, drinking water systems, and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. The current vicious cycle in which more soil erosion motivates more inputs, which in turn cause elevated pollution problems might intensify.

Higher temperatures will alter economic and cultural patterns in the region. Many Great Lakes states have rich winter-time cultural traditions such as hockey, ice fishing, and skiing. As temperatures rise, snow quality and amount might decline as more precipitation falls as rain or mixed precipitation. Lakes might freeze later and thaw earlier, reducing frozen lakes as economic and cultural resources.

The Great Lakes region underwent rapid economic and social disruption with deindustrialization over the past several decades. The next few could see similar disruption, but this time from climate change impacts.