Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lake Superior called 'early victim of climate change'

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Like ice sheets melting in the Arctic, Lake Superior has begun showing some of the world's most tangible evidence of global warming, according to scientists gathered in Duluth this week. The lake's average winter ice cover is 50 percent smaller than it was 100 years ago, a study found. Since 1980, the water on average in summer has warmed almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, which is twice as fast as the air has warmed. During that time, wind speeds in the middle of the giant lake also have risen steadily.

"In many ways, you in the Lake Superior basin are the canary in the mine," said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada. "Lake Superior is really one of the early victims of climate change."

Worldwide, warmer weather and stronger storms could affect everything from the survival of certain plants and animals to transportation to sewage treatment overflows. But the 400 or so scientists at the "Making a Great Lake Superior Conference" said there's still time to minimize the long-term environmental and economic damage, and to adapt to shorter-term changes that can't be averted.

Individuals, corporations and governments must "mainstream climate change" into their thoughts, plans and projects, said Joel Scheraga of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Global Change Research Program. Failure to plan could result in more disasters such as the damage done to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, he said.

…People should be concerned about such trends, but they shouldn't panic or lose hope, said Scheraga, the EPA program director. Knowing that storms may be stronger is already prompting cities to design sewer systems to handle larger overflows and treat potentially polluted runoff, he said. Similarly, engineers in extreme northern reaches are adjusting building foundation standards and building practices to compensate for dwindling permafrost.

As people work to reduce emissions that are driving the trends, they must also continue to adapt to them because greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will remain there for a long time, the scientists said…

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