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Great Lakes Article:

Low lakes may be blowin' in the wind

02/10/2002

By Dave LeMieux CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER

Summer wind speeds over the Great Lakes have been increasing slightly during the past 25 years, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

Though slight, the increase could be further proof of global warming and be contributing to the main force that takes water from the Great Lakes: evaporation.

Wind direction is changing more frequently as well, said oceanographer Mike McCormick of NOAA's Great Lakes

Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor.

"A lot of climate change signals are very small, but if they persist over a long time they can have a large effect," said McCormick. So "it's too soon to tell."

A study of how wind velocity over the Pacific Ocean during the 1930s contributed to the creation of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl is an example of the far-reaching effects produced by small changes in the environment.

Although lower lake levels are one possible result of increasing wind speeds, there's no direct evidence yet linking the two, said McCormick. "There's so much we don't know about climatology. This could be a short-term trend."

McCormick is studying wind data from eight National Data Buoy Center monitors located in the middle of lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron and Erie. The buoys were put in place in response to the 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Some scientists have predicted that global warming will lead to long-term increases in wind speeds. Scientists studying global warming have shown that excessive amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from burning coal, oil and gas have accumulated in the atmosphere. The pollution traps heat from the sun in the atmosphere, driving up global temperatures in the same way a greenhouse traps heat for plants.

Earlier Great Lakes studies have indicated that average water temperatures in the Great Lakes are going up from year to year and that the lakes are warming up earlier and earlier each summer.

"It's really hard to say that these effects are directly related to climate change," said Gary Fahnenstiel, director of NOAA Lake Michigan Field Station in Muskegon. "But they are consistent with what has been predicted by regional climate change models."

Because of the higher temperatures, the lakes are losing more water by evaporation than they have in the past. More evaporation and less rainfall have led to lower lake levels in the past five years.

Warmer winters have led to little or no ice cover on the lakes, which means even more evaporation.

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