Climate change may drain American Great Lakes in future

January 30th, 2009 - 2:15 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 30 (ANI): A new study has opened up the possibility that climate change may lead to the Great Lakes in the US getting all dried up in the future.

The Great Lakes have long been a bastion of stability, with water hovering at about the same level for as long as anyone can remember.

But, according to a report in Discovery News, a new study shows that climate change once pushed lake levels far below where they are now. That opens up the possibility that future climate change might do the same thing.

More than 33 million people depend on the Great Lakes for water, hydropower and work in industries ranging from shipping to recreation.

During the past event, about 8,500 years ago, water ceased to flow between the lakes. Today, going from interconnected bodies of water to isolated basins could be catastrophic.

If you cant transport things freely from the Great Lakes out to the Atlantic, major economic dislocation is going to happen there, said John King, a geological oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island in Narragansett. The way things are done in that neck of the woods would change dramatically, he added.

For decades, scientists have been working to reconstruct the aqueous history of the Great Lakes.

Those reconstructions showed that, for thousands of years, lake levels have only varied by a couple of meters (about 7 feet) up or down, mostly due to the advance and retreat of glaciers, which alternately trap and release water.

As they move, glaciers also cause land underneath them to rise and fall slightly.

Using a variety of techniques, King and colleagues took a closer look at the regions geologic past. They scanned aerial photographs for evidence of former beaches, cliffs and outlets for water flow from one lake to the next.

They bounced sound off surfaces to get cross-sections of the underwater topography. They looked at microfossil evidence, took note of tree stumps at surprisingly low depths, and collected core samples from areas of interest for radiocarbon dating.

Together, the evidence showed that between about 8,800 and 8,300 years ago, the water dropped 20 meters (66 feet) below current levels. Outlets became too high for water to pass, and lakes were suddenly cut off from each other.

The future is projected to grow warmer and drier, not cooler and drier like the period Kings team studied.
The potential exists for lake levels to fall below their outlets like they did 8,000 years ago if climate continues to get warmer and drier, Colman told Discovery News. (ANI)

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