Would You Like Ice With That Water

You should never extrapolate about global warming from your own weather, New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman wrote last week, but it is becoming hard not to.

Indeed, the freezing trends on Grand Traverse Bay are just one indication of climate change in the Great Lakes region, according to James Nugent, a horticulturalist with Michigan State University.

The graph at the left of this post was generated at least a couple of years. But, according to a web search, it received little media attention at the time. And, since a friend recently brought it to my attention, I thought it made a worthwhile and timely post today as Al Gore accepted the Nobel Prize for his work on the climate issue.

Basically, what the graph says is that Grand Traverse Bay, a beautiful expanse of freshwater in Northwest Michigan, froze anywhere from seven to 10 times a decade from 1851 - when they started keeping records - until about 1980.

Then things started to change. The bay froze six times from 1981 to 1990. It froze just three times from 1991 to 2000. And it has frozen only once since 2001.

"This shows a rapid decline in the frequency of bay freezing during the most recent 25 year period," Mr. Nugent once wrote in a paper, concluding that "significant warming has occured in the Grand Traverse Bay region during the winter months."

The likely long-term results of the trend are major disruptions in the nature of the waterway, some of which may already be visible. There's strong indication that lower lake levels, for instance, are a symptom of the warming trend as lack of ice cover enables year around evaportation.

I always thought of lake levels as nervous news. They go up. And they go down. It's the nature of the hydrologic cycle that's run on for millenia regardless of human things like lakefront hotels, cottages, and boat docks. But it's increasingly difficult to ignore the idea that the very nature of the Earth's weather system is changing, not just on the coral reefs off the Florida coast or some polar bear tundra in the North Pole, but right in our own backyard.

To pull the thread back to the theme of this blog, the question is whether our region is ready and willing to anticipate the trends and respond with the sort of urgency, innovation, and collaboration that this incredible challenge demands.