New Study of Climate Change Impacts Presented at Capitol Hill Briefing

The Northeast-Midwest Institute (NEMWI) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (EPLC) co-hosted a Congressional briefing on the impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region. The briefing highlighted a new study released by the EPLC in March that asses how the shifting global climate impacts the unique Great Lakes region.  The report was compiled of existing research and authored by 18 leading scientists and experts from a diverse selection of Midwest and Canadian research institutions. Key areas that the report focuses on includes:

  • Air temperature increases
  • Heavy precipitation and flooding
  • Extreme weather
  • Urban issues
  • Water quality and consumption
  • Agriculture, irrigation, and decreased crop yields
  • Lake ecology
  • Wildlife
  • Shipping, power generation and shorelines
  • Recreation and beach closures

Kicking off the briefing, Matt McKenna, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program at NEMWI, welcomed attendees from more than 50 Congressional offices. Next, Howard Lerner, the President and Executive Director of the ELPC, gave staff an overview of the key issues the region faces from climate change, while also introducing the panel of scientists that included: Don Wuebbles from the University of Illinois, Ashish Sharma from the University of Illinois, and Dana Infant from Michigan State University. Each contributed to the report: An Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Great Lakes.

Wuebbles explained how his recent research motivation started in November 2018 to analyze the peer reviewed literature regarding the knowledge of current projected impacts on the Great Lakes. He immediately found that climate change is already affecting the lakes and adding more challenges to the surrounding weather patterns. In the last 30 years, the temperature has increased 1.4 °F – a concerning and rapid increase about 10x faster than a natural increase. The last ice age was only 15 °F colder than it is now, therefore a 2 °F increase is drastic.

Sharma focused on the changes in the water supply and higher temperatures. The summer water temperature in the Great Lakes has increased over the last six years and it is expected to continuously rise. Agriculture watersheds are already seeing planting delays caused by spring flooding and excessively wet soil conditions. Hotter and drier conditions later in the season have increased the demand for irrigation to mitigate crop losses. Higher temperatures and heat waves will cause poor air quality that can affect children and elderly.

Infant highlighted the ecological changes on the Great Lakes. Her research discovered species areas of habitation are shifting, an increase in invasive species, and harmful algal blooms are increasing in frequency and severity. The large changes in precipitation could increase the nutrients in the Great Lakes. Therefore, increasing duration and intensity of lakes stratification. The changing weather and climate conditions will stress the physical infrastructure surrounding the lakes that protects the cities. Additionally, it will threaten indigenous peoples culture, livelihoods, and economies that depend on the Great Lakes.

Learner concluded the briefing with solution suggestions. Some of those solutions included improving energy efficiency within the communities around the Great Lakes, funding research on the impact of climate change on algal blooms, and investing in the Great Lake infrastructure.

The full report can be found here.

An audio recording of the briefing is available here.