Great Lakes Region

With GLRI support, updated land cover and historic change information for the Great Lakes was produced as part of NOAA’s Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP). GLRI specifically supported historic collections (1975, 1985) as well as the upcoming 2015 update. Combining this GLRI work with other NOAA-funded efforts, the result is land cover data that spans 40 years. Additionally, GLRI funding has resulted in land cover change and trend information for 25 years (1985-2010).

New development is represented in red

Development often forms a halo pattern around a preexisting city core

Such change information has been used by the LaMPs in providing context to better inform decision making related to priority areas. Additionally, this change information has been used to identify potentially restorable wetlands in the Great Lakes.  Stakeholders can easily access land cover and change information via direct download from NOAA’s Digital Coast website.

A recent report — the Great Lakes Regional Land Cover Change Report (1996-2010) – summarized the findings from part of the land cover change analysis.  According to the report, four percent of the U.S. Great Lakes region saw changes to its land cover–paved surfaces, trees, forests, grasses, and wetlands–from 1996 to 2010. That figure represents 7,144 square miles, almost the equivalent of Lake Ontario’s surface area.

  • Coastal counties added over 1,259 square miles of development, an area larger than the cities of Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Columbus, and Milwaukee combined.Gt lakes land cover

  • The largest sections of new development occurred in the counties surrounding Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Detroit.

  • The region lost 150 square miles of wetlands over 15 years, but 218 square miles of wetlands were gained, representing a net gain of 68 square miles of wetlands present in 1996. Wetlands lost were largely due to development around Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Low water levels, such as those seen around Saginaw Bay, Michigan, dominate the areas of wetland gains.

  • The Great Lakes region experienced a net loss of 1,735 square miles of forest cover (2,773 square miles of forests were cut while 1,038 square miles of forest were regrown). Many of the region’s forested areas are undergoing transitions that do not result in permanent loss.

This project has provided a baseline for a wide variety of Great Lakes watershed and lake specific environmental analyses, including assessing future restoration projects, modeling lake level trends and hydrodynamics, modeling and prioritizing nonpoint source pollution and sediment runoff areas, identifying potential migration areas for coastal habitats, evaluating impacts to ports and shipping, planning for conservation, and modeling water resource scenarios.


GLRI Funding:
FY 2011 - $269,460
FY 2012 - $173,468
FY 2013 - $205,388
FY 2014 - $214,117
FY 2015 - $214,117

Contact Info: 

Nate Herold
Physical Scientist, Office for Coastal Management
(843) 740-1183


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