Scientists studying Lake Superior say that, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, water in the lake is 15 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year and is on track to exceed its record temperature of 68 degrees.
The New York Times reports that the Great Lakes are viewed as “the canary in the coal mine” for aquatic ecosystems worldwide.
Lake Superior, which is the largest, deepest and coldest of the five lakes, is serving as the “canary for the canary,” [Cameron Davis, the senior adviser to the U.S. EPA on the Great Lakes] said at a public meeting of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force last week, pointing to recent data trends.
Total ice cover on the lake has shrunk by about 20 percent over the past 37 years, he said. Though the change has made for longer, warmer summers, it’s a problem because ice is crucial for keeping water from evaporating and it regulates the natural cycles of the Great Lakes.
Warm water makes for comfortable swimming but it also may speed the establishment of invasive species and destroy important traditional crops such as the wild rice harvested by Minnesota’s Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa Indians. There is also concern that warming will caused lowered lake levels and expose toxic sediments.
In February, the Obama administration rolled out a five-year Great Lakes Action plan dedicated to adapting to some of these effects and restoring the area.
The plan, which would cost more than $2 billion to carry out, lays out five central goals it hopes to address in the coming years: restoring lost wetlands, controlling invasive species, tackling runoff pollution, addressing toxics like mercury, and promoting accountability and education efforts.
As water levels decline, toxics need to get cleaned up, and “fast,” said Davis. “The reason is that with climate change scenarios starting to kick in, we have to get those areas cleaned up so we aren’t unwittingly circulating more contaminants than we need to,” he said.