The “Great” that describes lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eerie and Superior obviously refers to their size, but with climate change, scientists fear it may be a less accurate descriptor of their water quality.
A team of 27 researchers from the University of Michigan and collaborating institutions received a $5 million grant this week from the National Science Foundation to find how climate change will affect the Great Lakes.
Climate change research typically focuses on the amount and availability of water, but Anne Michalak, an associate professor at the University, will lead the investigation to determine its effects on water quality.
Their approach is multidisciplinary, exploring the interplay of climate, hydrology, ecology, and social systems. The main focus is land use, which, on a regional scale, has a larger impact on the climate than greenhouse gases. Land use is affected by population, agriculture, and extreme weather events anticipated in conjunction with climate change.
The Great Lakes basin is home to 10 percent of the U.S. population. Water here is essential to the region, providing drinking water, agricultural irrigation, and water-based recreation. The importance of these waters extends beyond the basin, though, comprising 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater.