March 8, 2023

Preserving the Pearls of the North: A Call to Protect the Great Lakes

Preserving the Pearls of the North: A Call to Protect the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes by area and contain 21% of the world's surface freshwater by volume. They consist of five lakes, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and are known for their sea-like characteristics, including rolling waves, great depths, strong currents, and distant horizons. These lakes play a vital role in the economy of eight states and the Canadian province of Ontario, and they hold a variety of ecosystems.

However, the water levels and temperatures of the Great Lakes have undergone continuous fluctuations over time. The most significant factor influencing their current state is climate change. As stated by Pengfei Xue from the Great Lakes Research Center, advanced regional climate modeling systems indicate that Lake Superior, Michigan-Huron, and Erie will experience a baseline water level rise of approximately 20 to 50 centimeters by 2050 due to climate change. This rise in water levels will have severe implications for the over 30 million individuals residing along the lakes' 4,500 miles of coastline, including increased coastal erosion, flooding, and navigation challenges.

Pictured: Ludington, MI, United States

Furthermore, climate change will also give rise to invasive species and encourage particular waterborne bacteria growth, which can affect human health. Harmful algal blooms, such as cyanobacteria blooms (blue-green algae), proliferate and produce toxins. Agricultural pollution is also significant in downstream water pollution, as chemical fertilizers flow into waterways during rainfall, polluting the lakes and harming the environment and wildlife. Warmer weather reduces ice cover, and increased evaporation increases precipitation over the lakes, causing rising water level temperatures, invasive species, and significant adverse effects on shorelines.

The delicate balance of the Great Lakes' ecosystem is dependent on the habitats of various species. Lake trout, for instance, are apex predators and their decline due to overfishing and habitat degradation has led to an increase in smaller fish species and invertebrates, which can harm the ecosystem. Many other fish species, such as walleye and whitefish, as well as numerous invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians, are essential to the intricate ecosystem of the lakes. Some of these species are native to the Great Lakes, while others are invasive, causing ecological imbalances and threatening the survival of native species. Therefore, safeguarding these species is critical to maintaining the ecological balance of the Great Lakes.

Pictured: Walleye, found throughout most of Canada and the northern half of the U.S.

Adapting to the increase in water levels and attacking the problem at the root involves many moving parts. According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, it is necessary that we reassess vulnerable sites such as landfills and industrial facilities, evaluate the risks of new projects, invest in green infrastructure, and effectively deploy federal funds and resources to address drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater threats.

In conclusion, the Great Lakes are an integral part of our natural world, providing a plethora of essential functions such as transportation, migration, trade, fishing, and drinking water for millions of people. These lakes also harbor a diverse array of aquatic species and serve as critical habitats for regional plant and animal life. Protecting the delicate balance of these ecosystems is not only essential for the survival of the lakes but also for the well-being of the countless individuals who rely on them. Therefore, it is imperative that we take immediate and sustainable measures to safeguard these vital resources for the present and future generations.

Take action to protect the Great Lakes today, visit: research using the most,a result of climate change.

Climate Change Indicators: Great Lakes Water Levels and Temperatures | US EPA

Agricultural Pollution and the Great Lakes - Alliance for the Great Lakes blooms (blue%2Dgreen%20algae,both%20human%20and%20ecosystem%20health.

Collaborative Stewardship Mapping Exercise
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