New research suggests climate change may have a strong effect on the Great Lakes.
The consequences could impact the drinking water potential and recreational value of the lakes, as well as make them more vulnerable to invasive species and infectious pathogens, Grand Valley State University reported.
"Climate change has occurred in the past, but this time, the frequency of change is too fast, not allowing animals enough time to adapt," said Kevin Strychar, an associate professor at Grand Valley's Annis Water Resources Institute, show co-authored one of the chapters of the study. "Further complicating this issue is that we need not only study individual animals but their inter- and intra-dependencies on other animals and on the environment. "
One of the conclusions reached by the researchers was the need to develop technology that allows real-time monitoring and management of water systems. The research team came up with six "grand challenges" the U.S. is facing in terms of "climate change, water, sustainability, agriculture, energy and education."
"Ignoring the problem is no longer a solution. Denying the plausibility of climate change is foolhardy. We need to accept the problem and now, find solutions - or at least minimize its impact on society and our planet as a whole," Strychar said.
The Great Lakes system is already overrun with damaging invasive species' and pollution from human sources, the National Wildlife Federation reported. Lake Superior has shown an increase in water temperature and an two-week-earlier onset of summer stratification in only the past three decades. If the trend continues Lake Superior could be virtually ice-free in the wintertime.
Lake Erie water levels are below average , and could potentially drop between four and five feet by the end of the century. Global warming could change the internal water cycling in the lakes leading to more oxygen-free (dead) zones.
Other potential consequences include: "less habitat for coldwater fish, more suitable temperatures for aquatic invasive species and hazardous algal blooms, and more mobilization of contaminated sediments as well as nutrients and toxic chemicals from urban and agricultural runoff," the National Wildlife Federation reported.