In Continued ice loss on the Great Lakes may cause widespread change in ecosystems at the Great Lakes Echo, Jennifer Kalish writes that a lack of winter ice is increasing evaporation which can harm our economy by affecting shipping and can also pose big problems for species like whitefish that rely on ice cover for spawning. A new study by Research Ice Climatologist Jia Wang has found that Great Lakes ice coverage has decreased by 71% in the past 40 years. Lake Ontario is tops with a reduction of 88% since 1973 with Superior not far behind at 79%.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration research ecologist Henry Vanderploeg explains that while it’s clear there are impacts, a lack of research on the topic leaves a lot of unknowns. Our very mild winter raises the level of concern:
“We’ve never seen water this warm this soon, ever,” said Vanderploeg. “We’re into a new temperature area that we’ve never seen before. We don’t know whether the fish will benefit from it or not.”
Less ice allows the water to warm earlier, speeding growth of invasive species like zebra mussels and quagga mussels. Mussels are sensitive to temperature changes. Just a few degrees change in temperature can cause them to eat phytoplankton twice as fast, Vanderploeg said.
And phytoplankton are the foundation of the food web, producing energy for many Great Lakes species.
The earlier mussels feed on phytoplankton, the quicker the rest of the food web will be robbed of their fair share, he said.
Read on for more, and also watch this great video from NOAA about how our changing climate can impact the Great Lakes.