Lake Erie's water level could plunge 3 to 6 feet as Earth's temperature rises

1/7/2008
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A study of western Lake Erie warns that Lake Erie could drop
6.5 feet in the next 50 years. The lack of water and ice is shown at
the Anchor Point Marina near Bono
in Ottawa County.
A study of western Lake Erie warns that Lake Erie could drop 6.5 feet in the next 50 years. The lack of water and ice is shown at the Anchor Point Marina near Bono in Ottawa County.
Low water levels at Luna Pier, Mich., here are nothing compared with what scientists predict could happen 50 years from now.
Low water levels at Luna Pier, Mich., here are nothing compared with what scientists predict could happen 50 years from now.

While there s no quick fix for curbing the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the Earth s warming climate, the issue is getting more attention in the Great Lakes region, and western Lake Erie in particular.

In a three-year study of the Detroit River-western Lake Erie corridor released earlier this month, 75 scientists from nearly 50 government, business, academic, and public-interest groups claimed Lake Erie could drop 3.28 feet to 6.56 feet of water by 2066.

The lake s western basin is the region s shallowest.

Even by taking the midpoint of that prediction, a 4.92-foot drop would result in a 4 percent reduction in surface area of the western basin and a 20 percent reduction in volume of the western basin, according to the 315-page report, State of the Strait: Status and Trends of Key Indicators 2007 .

As the lake shrinks, western Lake Erie s shoreline could expand by more than 19,685 feet, or nearly 4 miles, potentially wreaking havoc upon the shipping industry and facilities communities need for treating water.

But that s not all. More people likely will die or become sickened by insect-borne diseases such as West Nile virus.

Birders may have a harder time finding certain songbirds coming through the area, although therealready is an abundance of turkey vultures that may be due to global warming, the report said.

The report isn t a typical doomsday scenario prepared by reactionary groups.

Its seven editors include two members of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Windsor, plus one each from Environment Canada, the International Joint Commission, and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

Funding sources included several of the above agencies, the Canadian Consulate, Detroit s water and sewerage department, DTE Energy, Michigan Sea Grant, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other business, academic, and government organizations.

The report synthesizes much of the progress made in cleaning up decades of pollution in the Detroit River and western Lake Erie while providing an ominous look at failures such as invasive species and wetlands destroyed by waterfront development.

Runoff into the Maumee River and other streams continues to be problematic.

Controlling it must be approached in a holistic and comprehensive manner, the report said.

Like many studies of the Great Lakes lately, there s a hodgepodge of good and bad. It offers conflicting signals over what the Detroit River-western Lake Erie corridor has accomplished and where it is heading.

But that s just one of its central points. It said that while millions have been spent to study the Detroit River and western Lake Erie, little is being done to synthesize research in the United States and Canada. It calls for such collaborative work to be done at least once every five years.

John Hartig, the U.S. co-chairman of the report and a federal Fish & Wildlife Service official who manages the U.S. side of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, said public meetings are planned in the Monroe and Detroit areas to discuss the report.

Its section on global warming includes information provided by the 2007 report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a landmark report in which hundreds of scientists worldwide agreed that human activity is accentuating whatever natural changes that are occurring to the Earth s climate.

There is new and strong evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities, the report said, citing carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.

The heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed, although uncertainties exist about exactly how Earth s climate responds to them, it said.

The report offers few specifics on how cuts in regional greenhouse gases should be achieved and says nothing about what needs to be done, although it provides advice for conserving power through such means as compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-saving appliances.

Scientists say the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are coal-fired power plants, automobiles, and industrial plants.

The report notes that ice cover on Lake Erie has been declining since the late 1970s.

Scientists have said the lake evaporates more in the late fall and early winter than it does in the summer because the difference between air and water temperatures is greater.

Freezing seals off the evaporation until the spring thaw. But during winters when Lake Erie doesn t freeze, the lake is under enormous stress.

Even though there is considerable uncertainty as to the effects of global warming on Lake Erie water levels over the next several decades, projections are that there will be a decline, the report said.

A new report by the National Environmental Trust in Washington ranked Ohio fifth and Michigan 10th in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ohio s output of 255 million metric tons of emissions exceeds that of The Netherlands, or 98 developing countries, according to that group s report.

Michigan s output of 182 million metric tons exceeds that of Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and Croatia combined or 91 developing countries, the report said.

In November, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm formed the 35-member Michigan Climate Action Council to provide recommendations for creating jobs through research and development aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The council s interim report to the governor is due April 30. Its final report is to be submitted by Dec. 31.

Contact Tom Henry at:thenry@theblade.comor 419-724-6079.