The Great Lakes are not exactly known for balmy temperatures, but in recent winters, they’ve had less ice cover than in the past. That could be a problem for drinking water, summertime recreation, and local fisheries.

George Leshkevich of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab says ice levels vary widely each year, but satellite data show a strong declining trend.

Leshkevich: “The Great Lakes have as a whole been losing ice cover on average over the last forty years.”

This warming trend threatens the entire ecosystem. Less ice could harm native fish populations such as whitefish, which need sufficient ice cover to protect their spawning beds.

George Leshkevich

And with less ice, Great Lakes waters are more likely to warm up earlier in the spring. Blue-green algae thrive in warm water, so this creates conditions that are ripe for more harmful algal blooms. Bottom line? Less ice in the winter can lead to more frequent beach closures and contaminated drinking water in summer.

”The Click To Tweet

The Great Lakes provide drinking water for forty million people, and the region’s fisheries add billions of dollars to the economy. So there are both economic and environmental reasons to stop global warming and appreciate old man winter’s icy glaze.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photos: Courtesy of George Leshkevich.

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Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Daisy Simmons

Daisy Simmons is a freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in research-driven storytelling. In addition to contributing to Yale Climate Connections since early 2016, she also...