Great Lakes Region

Global climate change is predicted to carry significant consequences for the Great Lakes: variable lake water levels, reductions in duration and quantity of ice cover, increases in lakeshore erosion, and better conditions for certain invasive species and Harmful Algal Blooms.  Restoring the Great Lakes will enhance ecosystem resiliency and help buffer the impacts of climate change, particularly for the Great Lakes’ 158 coastal counties.  The fact remains, however, that the region must proactively plan for a changing climate.  Consideration must be given to how climate and weather patterns may change when planning for restoration of our Great Lakes and this is a primary goal of NOAA’s involvement in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

For this reason, GLRI support has enabled NOAA to highlight and enhance our climate project portfolio, including our partners work to educate and prepare resource managers, policymakers, and citizens for the effects of climate change in the Great Lakes.


GLRI Projects

NOAA’s GLRI-supported climate projects are extensive and range from scientific research to community outreach.

FY 2015 projects:

  • Comprehensive Modeling of Climate Change Effects on Lake Water Quality ($403,495) — Expanding on previous years’ work, we are more completely integrating coupled models of the regional atmosphere, of the Great Lakes basin water budget, nutrient loading of tributary streams, and of the circulation of the lakes (including also ice formation, ablation, and transport).
  • Applying Green Infrastructure in Waterfront Redevelopment to Support GLRI Climate Adaptation ($381,507) — This project will provide support to two coastal communities working to redevelop waterfront industrial land with the goal of integrating green infrastructure (GI) into smart growth and waterfront redevelopment activities.  It will build upon work funded through GLRI Economics of Green Infrastructure project, which evaluated how the cost of flooding impacts Duluth, MN, and Toledo, OH, and how these communities can use GI to help mitigate and adapt to flooding issues.
  • Great Lakes Lake Level Viewer Updates ($378,750) — This project will expand the coverage and capabilities of the first-generation Lake Level Viewer (visualization tool), which was developed with previous GLRI funding.  This project will inventory existing bathymetric datasets and then outline new collection areas and contract for bathymetric data collection.

FY 2014 projects:

  • Regional Downscaling Enhancements ($378,341) — NOAA’s GLERL will work to link models for riverine chemical loads, lake dynamics and seasonal stratification characteristics, and mixing of toxics and nutrients with regional atmospheric model outputs to inform models of Great Lakes water quality in the context of climate change. These linked models will help to inform projection of available water quantities and nutrient loading, both subjects of interest to many existing GLRI projects.
  • Economic Framework Study / Community Grants ($400,412) — NOAA OCM is continuing its work with Great Lakes communities to expand and build upon the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Planning Guide. Technical assistance is provided to help communities analyze the cost/benefits of alternative policy and adaptation strategies.
  • Project Criteria for Land and Water Management to Sustain Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems in a Changing Climate ($385,000) — NOAA OCM is working with the Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program to develop criteria for land and water management to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. Project partners will refine flow-ecology hypotheses, develop empirical flow-ecology curves, and analyze model outputs in relation to existing biological datasets to derive key response criteria. These metrics will assess the ecological limits of hydrologic alteration while incorporating related climate change / adaptation strategies.

FY 2013 projects:

  • Regional Downscaling Enhancements ($488,684) — NOAA GLERL continued to develop and validate modeling components that contribute to the net basin supply of the Great Lakes.  This research provides improved estimates of sensitivity of the Lakes’ water budgets to climate change relative to earlier generations of models.
  • Lake Superior NERR Sentinel Site development ($20,140) — This project helped support creation of a Sentinel Site at the Lake Superior NERR location.  The project includes support for Surface Elevation Tables, a platform to locate a meterological station, labor to monitor vegetation transects, and groundwater wells.
  • Economic Framework Study / Community Grants ($461,115) — NOAA CSC is working with two Great Lakes communities to expand and build upon the economic framework developed in FY10.  Technical assistance provided to help communities analyze the cost/benefits of alternative policy and adaptation strategies.
  • Lake Level Viewer – Visualization ($204,059) — Expanding upon FY10, FY11, and FY12 work, this project will allow additional management applications to be built into the tool, as scoped by stakeholders.  This will build functionality into the viewer, aiding decisions at the local level.

FY 2012 projects:

  • Regional Downscaling Enhancements ($487,700) — Developed and validated modeling components that contribute directly to calculation of the net basin water supply of the Great Lakes (tributary outflow from the land, over-lake evaporation, and over-lake precipitation).
  • Economic Framework for Community Adaptation ($467,300) — Collaborated with cities of Duluth, MN and Toledo, OH to identify land use options that can both reduce flooding and provide economic information to help make cost-effective land use decisions for the environment and the economy.
  • Lake Level Viewer ($209,000) — Initiated development of a Lake Level Viewer (LLV) that allows individuals and communities to visualize various water level scenarios. The LLV is anticipated for public release by Fiscal Year 2015.  This project also launched an Interactive Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard that allows individuals and communities to view past, current, and predicted future lake water levels.

FY 2011 projects:

  • Regional Downscaling (Ice cover, and CHARM) ($615,106) — Used nearly 40 years of satellite data to analyze the temporal and spatial variability of ice cover  in the Great Lakes (key finding: ice cover is variable, but the total loss of coverage during the study period was 71%).  In addition to supplying important information about changes over recent decades, this research provides a vital baseline for measuring future changes.
  • ASFPM Interactive Guidebook ($412,594) — Collaborated with the Association of State Floodplain Managers to create an interactive, online guidebook to provide coastal communities with the tools, training, and information necessary to plan for coastal hazards.
  • Sea Grant Climate Change Extension Capacity Building ($372,300) — Partnered with Sea Grant offices and academic experts to enhance climate literacy programs and build outreach capacity to support long-term climate literacy efforts in the Great Lakes region.

FY 2010 projects: 

  • Regional Downscaling: Energy Adjust Project ($557,500) — Performed long-term climate simulation using the Coupled Hydrosphere Atmosphere Research Model (CHARM).  CHARM climate simulations address issues such as Great Lakes ice formation and runoff into the Lakes.
  • Adaptation to Climate Change — State and Local Managers ($350,000) — Conducted “Planning for Climate Impacts” and “Coastal Planning” workshops in five key Great Lakes Cities. Also conducted a pilot project in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that explored identifying the economic impact of increased precipitation and how green infrastructure strategies could be used to help reduce future flooding scenarios.
  • Elevation Inventory / LS Bathymetry Collection ($2,842,500) — Conducted a basin-wide elevation data inventory and filled critical nearshore bathymetric data gaps in Lake Superior (~900 linear kilometers of data collected in priority areas).


For additional information on NOAA’s GLRI-supported Climate Projects, contact:

Heather Stirratt,


Climate Projects Highlight: Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard

Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard

Great Lakes water levels are critically important not only to scientists and researchers, but also to the businesses and industries that rely on the Great Lakes for shipping, fishing, and tourism.

Records show that since 1999, average water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron have been declining and are currently at or close to their record low levels.  It is possible that this is a periodic fluctuation and part of a natural cycle.  It is also possible that we are observing a situation in which precipitation cannot replenish water lost to greater evaporation that accompanies climate change.  If we can improve our understanding of past water levels and forecasts for the future, then we can make better decisions about this vital Great Lakes resource.

Enter the Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard (GLWLD).  This interactive online tool was developed by NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory with support from the GLRI and in cooperation with the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR).  The GLWLD permits visualization and analysis of monthly average Great Lakes water levels during past decades, even centuries.  Long-term forecasts from multiple sources extend through the year 2100. Seasonal forecasts from GLERL’s model are shown in a way that makes it easy to assess the model’s accuracy, as we believe that basin residents should understand the uncertainty inherent in all models.

The GLWLD synthesizes data from hundreds of scientific records from both sides of the US-Canada border.  Direct measurements of water levels have been recorded since 1860 in all five Great Lakes, and since 1898 in Lake St. Clair.  In addition, scientists have been able to estimate average water levels going back to AD 100 using paleological reconstruction (tree ring and ancient shoreline data). These calculations are also included in the GLWLD.

The GLWLD is a tremendous advance from past static charts and models; it is also notable in that it allows viewers to adjust the time frame in order to see the relative magnitude of seasonal, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade changes.  We are pleased to report that the dashboard has been widely and well received.  It has received more than 12,000 web hits during its first six months online, has received mention in dozens of Great Lakes publications and websites, and has garnered national attention in the New York Times and National Geographic.

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